The Seth Rich conspiracy shows how fake news still works

The most effective conspiracy theories target both the left and alt-right. What’s often forgotten about the DNC hack is how banal the emails were. There were three major hacks of the Democrats’ political operation. They were the DNC hack, released by WikiLeaks on July 22 last year; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) hack, released on Aug. 12; and the hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, which were released in a daily dump throughout October. The resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz during the Democrats’ convention fed into the idea that the DNC hack must have been devastating, revealing — in the words of Fox News conspiracy theorist Sean Hannity — that the “DNC was conspiring to hurt Bernie Sanders and help Hillary Clinton win the nomination.”

That’s not what the emails revealed. In fact, Wasserman Schultz’s mismanagement of the DNC, and personal bias toward Hillary Clinton, had been known, and a sore spot for supporters of Sanders, long before the hack. Wasserman Schultz scheduled debates late in the process, and had to be pushed by the Sanders campaign to allow a debate before the New York primary. Clinton, who’d narrowly lost the 2008 primary, came into 2016 with the vast majority of endorsements from party leaders — not actually a factor under the DNC’s control. What the emails found was that in May, after Sanders had no serious chance at the nomination, some DNC staffers got irresponsibly snarky and irritated. On May 1, for example, Wasserman Schultz reacted to news that Sanders would seek to contest the nomination at the convention by writing “so much for a traditional presumptive nominee.”

But by May 1, Clinton had a lead in the delegate count and popular vote that was not going to be outpaced by Sanders, even if he won a landslide in California’s looming primary. The theory that Rich was offended by these emails assumes that 1) he saw them, which is not suggested by any of the emails’ headers, and that 2) he would have interpreted exasperated emails in May as proof of anti-Sanders perfidy that the world needed to see. This doesn’t comport with reality — but it is attractive to the most die-hard progressive foes of Clinton. The Rich conspiracy thrived not just because fringe conservatives liked the idea of a break in the “Clinton body count” theory, but that the idea that someone would murder a leaker to cover up a conspiracy against Bernie Sanders would justify so much angst. Briefly, before Wheeler recanted his story, the Young Turks network’s “Jimmy Dore Show” chewed over the revelation that Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks.