More about the autor

Morning Feature – A Method to the Madness, Part II: The Breitbart Rumors

March 9, 2012

Morning Feature

Morning Feature – A Method to the Madness, Part II: The Breitbart Rumors

Andrew Breitbart announced he had college videos that would embarrass the president. Then he died. What more do you need? (More)

A Method to the Madness, Part II: The Breitbart Rumors

This week Morning Feature explores the psychology of conspiracy theories and their believers. Yesterday we examined the ‘shocking new’ video of President Obama at Harvard. Today we consider the bizarre speculation about President Obama’s role in the tragic death of Andrew Breitbart. Tomorrow we’ll conclude with stunning proof that President Obama refuses to discuss the extraterrestrial plot to colonize earth.

A tragic death

Despite our opposing political views and my disgust for his tactics, Andrew Breitbart’s death last Thursday was not an occasion for joy. He left a wife, four children, and many friends, all of whom will grieve their loss. He was just 43 years old when he collapsed while walking home after having had drinks at a bar. His father-in-law, comic actor Orson Bean, said Breitbart had a history of heart trouble. Friends also described him as “manic” and running “a million miles an hour.” Cardiology Associates reports that about 18,000 men under age 45 die each year of heart disease, and that hypertension is a major risk factor. The Los Angeles Times reported that an autopsy was performed but no finding on cause of death will be made until laboratory tests are completed, which may take weeks.

Or something more?

But rumors don’t wait for lab tests. On the day of his death, several Breitbart fans were already suggesting on Twitter that President Obama ordered Breitbart killed. The alleged motive was Breitbart’s claim, at CPAC, that he had college videos that would destroy President Obama’s reelection chances:

A Sinclair News reporter claims that Breitbart said, back in February, “wait til they see what happens March first.”

And on March 1st, Breitbart died. For conspiracy theorists, the connection was obvious. The next day, conservative talk show host Michael Savage raised the assassination question on the air:

Maybe my overly active imagination kicked into overdrive. But you heard what Breitbart said – he has videos…we’re going to vet the president. I’m asking a crazy question, but so what? We, the people, want an answer. This was not an ordinary man. If I don’t ask this question, I would be remiss.
If there’s going to be an autopsy…are we allowed to ask the question? Let me ask my audience the question: What do you think? Do you think he died from natural causes from overwork, exhaustion, had a heart attack and died–or do you think it’s possible that he was executed, assassinated by some nefarious forces in America?

Have we now become South American in the 1970s, where people just disappear?

Mere possibility

Alex Jones’ Infowars is a treasure trove of the wacky and bizarre. Jones and his site peddle conspiracy theories ranging from 9/11 ‘Truthers’ to plots of a North American Union to claiming the Georgia Guidestones detail an occult conspiracy to exterminate most of humanity. Some of the conspiracies Jones touts contradict each other but, as we discussed yesterday, conspiracy theorists often accept contradictory theories, so long as each theory rejects The Official Story.

So I wasn’t surprised to find this headline at Jones’ site: Breitbart’s death needs to be investigated for the sake and safety of ALL journalists. Andrew Steele’s article follows a common conspiracy narrative, using reports from the 1970s Church Commission and other sources suggesting exotic methods of murder, including some that might look like a heart attack. The author offers the usual suspects: the president himself, “parties interested in seeing that the president stay in office,” and the CIA, who may have contracted the hit out to the Mafia. The article concludes:

If there’s even a chance Andrew Breitbart was murdered it must be fully and independently investigated, no matter what destination such an investigation might lead to. An attack on Andrew Breitbart’s life would equate to attack on all political dissenters, both conservative and liberal. As human beings we owe it, not just to Andrew Breitbart but to ourselves and our own security, to shed further light on this strange event and to look out for each other, even if we don’t agree with all the world views our fellow bloggers and commentators hold. [Emphasis added]

The italicized words are the key for conspiracy theorists. As we discussed back in December, Daniel Kahneman and other psychologists have found we tend to greatly overestimate very tiny probabilities. In the conspiracy theory mindset, it’s enough to ask the question and demand every mere possibility be “fully and independently investigated.” An official autopsy will not qualify, unless it proves homicide. (“But what about poisons that leave no trace?!?”) Indeed conspiracy theorists will claim that any investigation that does not prove homicide was incomplete, compromised, or both, unless investigators meet the (impossible) burden of proving that homicide was … impossible. Just ask the ‘murderous’ Clintons.

Buzzfeed … and more….

Breitbart’s ‘shocking’ video did come out. As we saw yesterday, Buzzfeed found and released the original WGBH news footage of then-student Barack Obama speaking in support of Harvard law professor Derrick Bell. Buzzfeed released the video before Breitbart’s site could tease out their version, which included a Harvard professor claiming he had hidden the footage from the media, despite the video being included in a PBS documentary in 2008. The media narrative might have been very different had the Big Government version come out first … proving Buzzfeed and WGBH are in on the conspiracy … somehow.

After all, Obama not only knew Bell, but assigned Bell’s work when Obama was a professor at the University of Chicago. Never mind that Bell’s casebook – Race, Racism, and American Law – has been a standard textbook in critical race theory for decades. It’s … radical!

If that doesn’t convince you, just consider that President Obama openly admits to supporting alternative energy research, that Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said alternative energy is more attractive when the price of gas rises, and the price of gas is rising! What more proof do you need? (Well, except for there being no sane political motive to raise gas prices in an election year.)

The extraterrestrials could probably explain it, but President Obama refuses to talk about his plot with them. But that’s for tomorrow….


Happy Friday!

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story implied that Andrew Breitbart did, as a matter of fact, say “wait til they see what happens March first” in early February, in a conversation with a Sinclair News reporter. I found no story published prior to Breitbart’s death that included the quote.

  • winterbanyan

    We had a neighbor die of a heart attack at 42 while dozing on his couch after Sunday dinner. Trust me, no one even considered the possibility that his wife had poisoned him.

    This kind of craziness really can’t be countered. Breitbart’s site is a mess right now because his web people changed something and now a ton of links are broken. Those who want to read the archives are finding they can’t get to the articles. I suppose that’s a grand conspiracy, too.

    And yet that’s exactly the problem I ran into a few years ago when GoDaddy mistakenly deleted my professional website and we had to rebuild it. It’s something that happens all the time, and a single mistake can cause it. But his conspiracy theorists won’t believe it.

    • NCrissieB

      The Snopes article about “The Clinton Bodycount” emails is a must-read for examples of how these rumors are cultivated. Among their suggestions:

      — Play word games. Make sure every death is presented as “mysterious.” All accidental deaths are to be labeled “suspicious,” even though by definition accidents occur when something unexpected goes wrong. Every self-inflicted death must include the phrase “ruled a suicide” to imply just the opposite. When an autopsy contradicts a “mysterious death” theory, dispute it; when none was performed because none was needed, claim “no autopsy was allowed.” Make liberal use of words such as “allegedly” and “supposedly” to dismiss facts you can’t contradict with hard evidence.

      — Make sure every inconsistency and unexplained detail you can dredge up is offered as evidence of a conspiracy, no matter how insignificant or pointless it might be. If an obvious suicide is discovered wearing only one shoe, ignore the physical evidence of self-inflicted death and dwell on the missing shoe. You don’t have to establish an alternative theory of death; just keep harping that the missing shoe “can’t be explained.”

      It’s easy to concoct a conspiracy theory, and almost impossible to disprove one. If every piece of evidence points to one and only one conclusion, and that isn’t the conclusion a conspiracy theory proposes … the theorist can claim investigators never looked for the Real Evidence, or that they hid or destroyed it. And always, the burden of proof is on everyone else to prove the conspiracy theory could not have happened….

      So yes, a routine technical glitch at that website is Just More Evidence … of something….

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

      • winterbanyan

        That Snopes article is fascinating reading. Thanks!

  • Gardener

    WGBH involved, eh? HA! I knew they were “up” to something!

    Even $$$ sez the Clinton’s are in this up to their necks! 😉

    • NCrissieB

      I’d take the bet, except I suspect your “even $$$” comes from …

      … George Soros! 😉

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • addisnana

    I read this several times. I think I understood because it was very clearly laid out but I must say I don’t get how people get sucked into this stuff. Today there’s a full moon but what about the other 29 days? These people are products, mostly, of our public school system. These people vote. Is their information island over in rightwingia what explains this phenomenon? I am shaking my head.

    • glendaw271

      But he died on the very day that he was going to expose the President! Never mind that the fact that he hugged a Harvard law professor while he was a Harvard law student got a big ‘Huh?’ from most people. It should bring about an impeachment, according to the Breitbart followers.

      I watched part of a video from an MSNBC show that had on a Breitbart follower yesterday, and the woman interviewing the person was having a really hard time trying to get the guy to say WHY this video proves something horrible about Obama. I have to say she tried valiantly, but nothing he said was making much sense. Obama! Bell! Rev. Wright! That seemed to be the gist of what he was saying.

      • NCrissieB

        This …

        But he died on the very day that he was going to expose the President!

        … is an interesting tidbit. I’ve updated the story (see the Editor’s Note) to reflect that I found no story published prior to Breitbart’s death that included the quote “wait til they see what happens March first.” He may have said it, and may have intended to release the videos on March 1st. But with only one source, who apparently did not publish the quote until after Breitbart’s death, we should be … skeptical.

        As for why conservatives want this to be a Big Deal, it would allow them to make race an explicit topic of the 2012 campaign.

        Good morning! ::hugggggs::

    • NCrissieB

      How do people get sucked into such theories? It’s not as bizarre as it seems. As we discussed in December, our brains are wired to prefer stories that include causes. Consider which of these stories feels more likely:

      1. A flood in California kills 1000 people.
      2. An earthquake in California causes a flood that kills 1000 people.

      Most people will say the second is more likely, as it includes a plausible cause (an earthquake). But there are many possible causes for a flood (burst dam, heavy rain, etc.). Statistically, a story that proposes one possible cause cannot be more likely than a story that proposes no cause and thus includes every possible cause.

      But we prefer stories that include causes – however unlikely such stories may be – and conspiracy theories provide causes.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::