WaPo: hide the evidence

(AP Photo/Bram Janssen)

Democracy Dies from Knowledge™. Spread the Darkness™. The Truth Hurts™. Pick a slogan.

Philip Bump of the Washington Post argues that releasing the video from the Paul Pelosi break in/assault would only fuel conspiracy theories. Best to stick to the official Narrative™ so that we plebs don’t get any uppity ideas that we aren’t being told the truth.


He actually, truly, 100% no kidding is arguing that the evidence should be hidden, as any great reporter would.

In other news, Bump argues that Jeffrey Epstein killed himself, there were no actual human trafficking victims in the crimes for which Ghislain Maxwell was convicted, and the tooth fairy really does leave money behind if you put your tooth under the pillow. The evidence for Santa Claus, however, is mixed.

Unlike many, I have no developed opinion about what happened in Pelosi’s house the other night. I know something awful happened–an octogenarian was hit with a hammer. I know a lot of super weird things happened–it’s not exactly usual for violent criminals to show up in their underwear wielding hammers while giving you a bathroom break to call the police.

But as to the details? How the hell would I know? It’s early. It’s politically charged, so lots of people are lying to run out the clock. Tempers are high. The only thing I know for certain is that we won’t get the full story until after the election, and probably not then. So in general I only speculate to my wife and friends, not to my readers. Lots of other people do that for your entertainment.

But our friend Philip Bump has advanced a fascinating argument that should warm the cockles of every reporter’s heart: ignorance is bliss, so hide the evidence.


No, seriously. That is his actual point.

What makes conspiracy theories so powerful, though, is information. They aren’t simply invented out of thin air. They’re cobbled together piecemeal from people looking for patterns that don’t exist. When movies show deranged people drawing colored string between points on a corkboard, they aren’t threading together empty spots. They’re connecting random things that have no actual connection, picking out faces in clouds.

An initial trigger is often early, unclear information about what occurred. We see this frequently, from the attack on Paul Pelosi to claims that the 2020 election was stolen to conspiracy theories about the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. In each case, things that seemed like they might be one way were shown to be something else, generally as new information is gathered. This is how learning works. But because early indicators are often wrong, they are later dismissed by authorities — and therefore become looped into conspiracies.

On Tuesday evening, The Washington Post reported that the Capitol Police had a live feed of the Pelosi couple’s San Francisco house during the attack but that no one was monitoring the feed. In short order, a new demand emerged: Release that video! Release the video of the responding police officers! What are you hiding?! Because this is how the conspiracy theory continues to ooze forward. There’s always some information out there being suspiciously hidden that will prove the conspiracy theory correct. If that information is suppressed, it reinforces the conspiracy theory. If it is released, it becomes evidence that contributes to the conspiracy theory — colored yarn is pinned to it — or attention just turns to some other just-out-of-sight information.


Of course the Washington Post never reports any news until they have everything nailed down. That’s why they share a Pulitzer Prize for reporting that the Steele Dossier was rock solid and proved that Trump was colluding with Russia while peeing on Russian prostitutes. They report the facts, all the facts, and only the facts. Double checked by using their secret decoder rings and a phone call to the CIA.

I frequently come back to Lawrence Lessig’s 2009 essay “Against Transparency” in which he warned that publishing information in the interests of governmental transparency would simply give people scads of material to generate their own narratives. That’s exactly what happened, though Lessig didn’t foresee that the advent of social media would vastly speed up the narrative-building process.

As an employee of a newspaper, I would, in fact, like to see the video that the Capitol Police overlooked, and the body-cam footage. It is the media’s job to question authority and to ensure accountability. It is also the media’s job to present accurate information to the public and to stamp out misinformation. So while seeing that footage would be useful, there is not at this point any reason to believe that the attack on Paul Pelosi was anything other than what various legal documents have suggested.

The lure of conspiracy is too strong to accept that, however, and the public understanding of how logic works is too weak.

So Bump admits that it would be nice if somebody got to see the video–just not the public. Somebody like him, who is dedicated to ensuring that Democracy doesn’t Die in Darkness. People like you and me should be told what to think, not actually weigh and consider evidence and decide for ourselves. We might come to the “wrong” conclusion because we don’t understand how logic works.


No kidding. Barring any evidence to the contrary we must forever and always trust the authorities, as the WaPo did with Donald Trump and all the Republicans they cover fairly and objectively every single f’ing day, pleb! Trust the authorities! BTW–I, Philip Bump, am one such authority to trust.

The public is way too stupid to allow facts to cloud their judgment, so we must Trust™.

What those clamoring for the release of the footage will argue is that they are simply seeking to do their own validation of the conspiracy theory. That they’re doing what Bolduc won’t. But again, there’s no reason to think that the offered explanation is suspect and, again, releasing more information will simply throw more things at the base of the corkboard to be perused. How much traction did the conspiracy theorists get out of a photo of broken glass outside the Pelosis’ home, despite it not being evidence of anything dubious happening?

More transparency and more information are good when considered responsibly. The challenge is that one can no more control how that information is applied than the people who, say, write magazine articles scrutinized for patterns of numbers by the corkboard set can control getting looped into a delusion.

The requests for video footage of the Pelosi attack, like the request for footage from the Capitol riot, is not primarily about the footage. It is primarily about using the request for the footage as a way to imply that something is being hidden.


Bump actually is arguing that the authorities should hide the evidence to prove that they are not hiding the evidence. Because people who want the evidence don’t actually want to know the truth.

The truth that can only come from the authorities. This is the kind of journalism you find in Russia, not the United States.

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