Getting a Reid on the latest right-wing rumor

    Hey, didja hear about how Harry Reid got beaten up by the Mafia? Supposedly?

    Those hideous facial injuries, that bandage over his right eye – the official story, of course, is that the Senate Democratic leader had an accident on his malfunctioning exercise machine. But some fever swamp denizens don’t buy it. Their preferred meme is that Reid got his face rearranged by duh boys, like a scene out of a Scorcese flick.

    Everybody has been debating Reid’s record and legacy since his Friday retirement announcement, but this particular right-wing fantasia is the most fascinating of all – because it reminds us (yet again) that factual proof is an alien concept inside the infauxtainment bubble.

    I freely acknowledge that at times Reid himself has skimped on fact verification – like in the summer of 2012, when he repeatedly said that Mitt Romney “didn’t pay any taxes for 10 years.” That was a lie. But as our mothers taught us back in the day, two wrongs don’t make a right. And while we assume that most politicians are loose with the facts, we should expect better behavior from our communicators.

    Take John Hinderaker, for instance. He blogs regularly on Powerline, the well-read conservative site. Back in January, shortly after Reid suffered his injuries, he wrote: “Some are speculating that (Reid) had a run-in with Las Vegas underworld characters.” He had no proof whatsoever, but the phrase some are speculating put the meme in play.

    Reid-hating conservatives like this meme because it plays into their long-held assumption that Reid must be mobbed up because he’s from Nevada and has $6 million in the bank. Even though the inconvenient truth is that back in the late ’70s, when Reid was Nevada gaming commissioner, he fought the mob so fiercely that he received constant death threats and found a bomb in his family car. Another time, he choked an underworld guy and said, “You son of a bitch, you tried to bribe me!” This stuff has all been well-documented.

    And is it so far-fetched that a 75-year-old man could get thrown from an exercise machine? Vox, the explanatory journalism website, quotes a law firm that handles personal injury litigation: “Resistance bands (or ‘exercise bands’) have become one of the most popular types of exercise equipment in the United States. Unfortunately, dozens of people have been severely injured when the bands unexpectedly broke or released, snapped backward at the user, and caused eye injuries, vision loss, hand injuries, and more.”

    Anyway. Last Friday, shortly after Reid announced his retirement, Rush Limbaugh (natch) said on the air, “I don’t believe for a minute” that Reid was injured by a malfunctioning machine. On the contrary, “Harry Reid looks like and is acting like, and now with this announcement, behaving like, somebody who may have been beaten up.” All the infauxtainmnt elements are there – I don’t believe, without a shred of proof for his disbelief; Reid may have been beaten up, the weasel words of speculation.

    Then, last Saturday, Hinderaker doubled down. It’s worth quoting a few key passages, to give you a flavor for how the game works. I’ll italicize the key phrases:

    A friend of mine was in Las Vegas a week or two ago. He talked to a number of people there about Reid’s accident, and didn’t find anyone who believed the elastic exercise band story. The common assumption was that the incident resulted, in some fashion, from Reid’s relationship with organized crime. The principal rumor my friend heard was that Reid had promised to obtain some benefit for a group of mobsters. He met with them on New Year’s Day, and broke the bad news that he hadn’t been able to deliver what he promised. When the mobsters complained, Reid (according to the rumor) made a comment that they considered disrespectful, and one of them beat him up. Is that what really happened? I have no idea, but it is a more likely story than the elastic exercise band yarn….at this point I have no idea who assaulted Reid, if in fact that is what happened.

    So he had a “friend” – unnamed – who talked to “a number of people” – unnamed – who shared an “assumption” that was only a “rumor,” and in the end he has “no idea…if in fact that is what happened.” (And, presumably, the Joe Pesci type who attacked Reid somehow managed to elude Reid’s ever-present security detail.)

    I’m surprised that Donald Trump hasn’t demanded to see Reid’s long-form hospitalization papers.

    Whatever the faults of the mainstream media – and we all have our complaints – at least there was a time, not long ago, when editors ensured that unverified speculation of this magnitude never saw the light of day. But here in the 21st century, there are no gatekeepers. Alas, there is only the open sewer.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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