Jim Hoft (Gateway Pundit) is often cited as “The Dumbest Man On The Internet.” Not without reason, either. In his role as one of the right wing’s most-loyal attack dogs, Hoft has put forth numerous ludicrously false posts, ranging from claiming that the closed-captioning on an Obama speech was actually instructions to the speech’s audience to laugh, applaud, etc, to being suckered into believing a satire website’s joke-post that a San Diego high school had canceled a speech by the President because the long-form birth certificate he provided to refute the birther’s claim was “a fake.”
Hoft’s since deleted the latter post – a disturbing pattern by him of attempting to elide his own mistakes and re-write anything inconvenient or embarrassing in his own past – so who knows how many other such examples there are that have disappeared down the memory hole? But stupidity could certainly be among the likely reasons why a blogger like Hoft who self-styles as a truth-seeking (and telling) investigative journalist would repeatedly get suckered into posting or repeating such idiocies. But there’s another, even more plausible explanation for Hoft’s role as the Sideshow Bob of right-wing internet punditry, perpetually stepping on the same rhetorical rakes over and over again. Namely, I submit that Hoft is an ideological zealot, and thus is not so much an idiot (though don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly no Einstein) as he is a bullshitter.
In his brief but trenchant paper “On Bullshit,” Harry Frankfurt describes the essence of bullshit as something completely separate from lying. Someone who lies knows – or at least thinks he knows – the truth, and is attempting to deceive others by intentionally spreading falsehood. Someone who is bullshitting, by contrast, does not have either truth or falsehood as their primary goal at all, but instead something else altogether. In the case of partisan zealots like Hoft, that “something else” is quite clearly the advancement of a narrative. In its simplest form, it is: Democrats (and liberals, progressives, etc.): BAD, Republicans (and conservatives, tea-partiers, libertarians): GOOD. This theme runs throughout Hoft’s site, as far back as the archives go; it is his literal raison d’blog: to bash the left and advance the right. Period. He is a zealot and a hack. To those twin ends of bashing the left and cheering the right, Hoft is certainly willing to employ the truth if he thinks doing so will best further his goal, but he is equally at home proffering the worst sorts of smear, innuendo, bigotry and yes, outright falsehood if he thinks that will best advance an anti-left or pro-right agenda.
Of course, getting caught in transparent lies usually does NOT help advance Hoft’s goals, which is why (given how frequently Hoft is thusly ensnared) instead of following the responsible journalistic practice of issuing corrections to mistakes in stories, Hoft simply attempts to erase from the collective memory that he ever said such things. But as long as a statement or post of his is either opinion-based (which requires no evidence) or has at least the thinnest veneer of plausibility (or plausible deniability – for Hoft), he’s quite comfortable putting forth unsubstantiated or even discredited, false evidence to advance his goals. To an ideological bullshitter like Hoft, it does not matter much whether the narrative he’s spinning is true or false. What matters is whether it makes the left look bad and/or the right look good. Hoft’s goal is to get the reader to hate liberalism, vote conservative (Republican or tea-party), and thus advance his cause, NOT to tell the truth OR even to tell lies. Just whatever advances the message best. Read Hoft or listen to him, and that is what you are getting: stories crafted lovingly with whatever bullshit best ensures that you’ll come away with a bad impression of the left or a good impression of the right.
The latest example of Hoft’s bullshit is the furor over the killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, MO. Hoft’s goal here, as always, is to either defend the right from attack or to attack the left, not to oppose tyranny or support human rights or discover truth. However, given how much noise the right has been making ever since the election of Barack Obama about tyranny and government overreach and the police state (Cliven Bundy, etc.), it becomes a bit inconvenient when an actual armed representative of government (a cop) guns down an unarmed man (boy, really) in broad daylight in the middle of the street. Consistency would dictate that if a pundit like Hoft is opposed to government overreach (especially the armed variety), then the execution of a young man should certainly raise at least as much outrage as simply leaning on a rancher for not paying grazing fees. And if local cops or the FBI had shot some of the armed-to-the-teeth protesters at the Bundy ranch, Hoft and the rest of the right-wing commentariat would have been up in arms with cries of tyranny and oppression. But because Michael Brown was a black kid in a poor neighborhood, Hoft understands that his “side” in this is the traditional conservative support for law and order, and he slips effortlessly from sounding like Che Guevara when describing the BLM’s “terrorism” against Bundy, to maligning a dead kid and defending the police in Ferguson.
How does Hoft malign the memory and insult the family of Michael Brown? By claiming, much like the entire right wing did in the Trayvon Martin case, that Brown “was a gangster.” Hoft’s post, as of this writing is entitled “BREAKING: Ferguson’s Michael Brown PICTURED Flashing GANG SIGNS” (but that wasn’t it’s original title, as you’ll see in a moment). The post goes on to show a number of photos where hand signals are being flashed. In two of them Brown is simply flipping the bird, which even Hoft must know is not a gang symbol, so its inclusion in his post must simply be for the shock factor: “ooh, look at that awful delinquent black thug-boy. He probably deserved what he got.” There’s that patented Hoft-brand bullshit at work. In fact, Hoft’s entire post is geared to elicit that reaction: that Michael Brown was probably a thug who deserved what he got. Remember, Hoft is primarily an ideologue, so it doesn’t matter to him if what he’s spewing is true or false…as long as posting false things doesn’t either affect Hoft personally (via a libel suit or similar), or negatively affect his cause (via being discredited as a fraud or liar).
Tellingly, this was not the original title of Hoft’s post. When he first posted it, Hoft entitled the post “BREAKING: Michael Brown Was a GANGSTER – Seen Flashing “BLOODS” Gang Signs.” Quite a difference between that and the title that’s up now. How do we know this was the original title? Not because Hoft helpfully left his readers a note saying the headline had been changed, but because Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs (who’s only too familiar with Hoft’s proclivities when it comes to erasing his past) captured the original version of the post and made it available for reference. Why the change? Who knows? Perhaps Hoft feared a lawsuit, and wanted to keep his nose just clean enough to avoid any serious threat of prosecution for libel. Or maybe Hoft worried that people would realize that just mugging for the camera with gang signs isn’t indicative of actual gang membership, as Doktor Zoom pointed out in a hilarious post at Wonkette that includes this photo. Or maybe Hoft feared ridicule and loss of status from such an overstated histrionic headline. Whatever the reason for the change, thank the quick screen capping work of a couple of bloggers familiar enough with Hoft to think to archive the original that you even know about it. Zoom’s post at Wonkette additionally points out that Hoft also posted up (and later deleted, again without notice) this photo that is racing around the right-wing fever-swamps:
Why’d Hoft delete this one? Because it’s a photo of a boy named Jodah Cain, taken in 2013, NOT Michael Brown. Again, I don’t think this screw-up would matter to Hoft, except for the potential it has to either besmirch his own reputation, or to discredit or harm Hoft’s cause. But the pattern’s the same: Hoft goes into these posts knowing the story he wants to tell, the cause he wants to advance…and so he’s willing to put up anything that he thinks accomplishes that. It’s also why Hoft’s perhaps, ah, not the world’s most stringent fact-checker, shall we say. Hoft is willing to bullshit himself – and certainly all of us – if necessary, in service of his agenda. He’ll tell the truth if it fits his narrative…but if the truth isn’t available to Hoft, that won’t stop him from advancing his point. He’ll say whatever he thinks makes his point best, regardless of its veracity. Doing so runs the risk for Hoft of repeatedly being caught in falsehoods, many of them obvious or coarse, and that can tend to make Hoft look stupid. But although he’s certainly no genius, Hoft’s probably not the stupidest man on the internet, because stupidity isn’t what’s driving him primarily. Zealotry is.