There’s nothing wrong with Bernie Sanders hiring a “Twitter attack dog,” as The Atlantic put it. Edward-Isaac Dovere reported Tuesday the Vermont senator had brought on David Sirota, a notorious hack. I don’t think that’s wrong despite Sanders’ pledge to be civil. Sure, it’s cynical and disgusting. You can take umbrage with that. But there’s nothing unethical about saying one thing and doing something else.
It would be a disservice to everyone if the Sirota controversy, as I’ll call it, ended with outrage. Pols are naturally hypocritical. Hypocrisy, or the appearance of it, often can’t be helped, because candidates seek to please various and competing factions. So hypocrisy per se is par. There is, however, something morally wrong, deeply wrong, with interlocking layers of wrongness, in hiring David Sirota. Here are some facts.
First, The Atlantic’s Dovere confirmed that Sirota had been working for months for the Sanders campaign. (Their relationship goes back decades.) The campaign, however, did not make his role public. While Sirota was working in secret, he posed as a “journalist.” He posted several pieces and tweets on Sanders’ rivals, including Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and others, but especially Beto O’Rourke.
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The Sanders campaign made Sirota’s role public only after Dovere called to ask why it had not made his role public. Implicit here is that Sirota might still be working in secret had not Dovere raised the issue. Within hours of Dovere’s phone call, Sirota deleted more than 20,000 Twitter posts. Dovere screen captured many. Faiz Shakir, Sanders’ campaign manager, said he was not aware of how toxic some were. “He used those exact words?” Shakir asked. “I’m sure he regrets the tone.” Yeah, don’t bet on it.
Sirota once alleged that Beto O’Rourke took campaign cash from fossil-fuel interests, thus portraying him as a faker. Sirota clearly intended to disqualify him in the eyes of purists. The backlash was fierce. It was also correct. Sirota elided the difference between individual donors and corporate donors. It’s true that employees of oil and gas companies, the kind populating the Texas landscape, donated to O’Rourke’s failed senate bid. It’s false, however, to claim he took money from fossil-fuel interests.
That would not have been so bad if he had left it there. But what he did next elevated propaganda to fraud. He treated the backlash against his hit job on O’Rourke as a reflection of everything that’s wrong with the Democratic Party, thus everything that’s right with his boss, though we didn’t know Sanders was his boss, because Sirota had been pretending to be a reporter. For instance, he said: “The screaming temper tantrums by Democratic Party operatives whenever reporters scrutinize a lawmaker’s voting record is something to behold. These people quite literally hate democracy.”
More from Dovere:
Sirota had once dismissed “the trolls trying to de-credential me & claim I’m not a ‘real journalist.’” In December, he said anyone who questioned his motives “illustrates something important: while Dems deride Trump’s war on the press, there are a cadre of Dems who try to bully campaign finance reporters if they report facts that are inconvenient to Democratic candidates.”
All of the above italics are mine for a reason.
Sirota could not have treated the backlash as a reflection of everything that’s wrong with the Democratic Party, thus everything that’s right with Sanders, if he had not pretended to be a journalist following the facts wherever they lead. He could not have treated the backlash that way, because he could not have presented himself as a victim of intense partisan rage. Take away the victimhood, and all that’s left is propaganda.
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In a real sense, Kellyanne Conway, the president’s propagandist, has more honor and integrity than Sirota. She lies like the wind. She tells ugly, fantastical whoppers. But she does not pretend to be anything more than the president’s propagandist.
Sirota, however, laundered falsehoods with a reporter’s credibility. He used the profession’s tropes and conventions against it, Sanders’ rivals and O’Rourke’s defenders. In deleting 20,000 tweets, he’s telling us that he knew what he did was immoral, that he was trying to escape accountability. (And he did.) In the process, he defrauded readers, profaned journalism’s moral authority, and willfully sabotaged the public trust. In short, Sanders hired an evangelist of suicide-bomber politics.
Victimhood is central to demagoguery. With it, you can rationalize any statement and behavior no matter how destructive or immoral, because you are a victim of an enemy willing and able to say and do anything no matter how destructive or immoral. In Sirota’s case, the “real Democrats” are Sanders voters battling an entrenched party system that daily violates the people’s sovereignty. As he said: These people quite literally hate democracy. The party system is so corrupt and so irredeemable that any action is justified, even if that means burning it all down to reshape it in Sanders’ image.
Somebody here hates democracy.
It’s not the Democratic Party.
Sirota treats ‘opponents as enemies’
You really should be reading The Washington Monthly’s Nancy LaTourneau. She said:
I tend to be a trusting person. But the BS is piling up in this story. First we learn that Sirota has been working for the Sanders campaign for months. Whether or not that arrangement began before he started attacking other Democratic candidates is currently in dispute. Then, we’re supposed to believe that his Twitter feed was coincidentally scrubbed the same day that his employment with the campaign was made public.
What concerns me is that there is no way that Bernie Sanders or the people who are running his campaign could be ignorant about David Sirota’s style of engagement. Even if they were, with his work over the last few months getting widespread attention, they must have seen his attacks and liked them, because they decided to bring him on in an official capacity.
There is no one that I can think of who, if hired by a campaign, would more strongly suggest that a candidate intends to treat their opponents as enemies than David Sirota. It’s not that I dislike the guy, I don’t actually know him. It’s just that he has made his modus operandi very clear. If we are to judge the candidates based on the people they hire, this one reflects very badly on Bernie Sanders.
Sirota’s greatest (deleted) hits
Courtesy of The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere.
A word from David Simon
The creator of “The Wire” had something to say about Sirota.