By Albert Eisenberg
Imagine a headline like this: John Fetterman shares platform with infamous Jew-hater Ayatollah Khamenei. Or, Pennsylvania Democrats actively funding website used by school shooters.
That is about the tone, caliber and accuracy of an article published this week on Pittsburgh’s publicly-funded NPR affiliate, WESA 90.5, headlined: GOP candidate for Pa. governor Mastriano paid $5,000 to the website used by the Tree of Life shooter.
If that headline sounds incredibly inflammatory, that’s because it’s meant to be. Mastriano’s crime, revealed below the shocking headline, is purchasing $5,000 in advertising on the right-wing social network Gab.
Reporter Oliver Morrison makes a direct tie between Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial nominee and an anti-Semitic mass-murderer, relying entirely on guilt-by-association: “Gab is the website used by Robert Bowers, who is charged with killing 11 Jewish worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill in 2018. Bowers routinely posted anti-semantic content on Gab before the shooting.”
The case Morrison is making relies entirely on a link between Mastriano and other people on Gab, none of whom he has endorsed. “Mastriano expressed no reservations” about posting to the social platform. His posts elicit a number of anti-Semitic comments, according to WESA 90.5. And the social network has users that “openly promot[e] white nationalist content,” including the views of its founder, a Pennsylvania resident.
Guilt-by-association is an easy game to play. High school shooters regularly stream their attacks on Facebook, which is used heavily by Democrats to run election ads. Twitter, which Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman uses frequently, allows Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme ruler of Iran and a genocidal anti-Semite, to share his message with millions in English, Farsi and French. The headlines I suggested at the beginning of this column could easily be used by Morrison. But of course they’re not, because guilt-by-association only cuts one way in the minds of America’s establishment journalists.
WESA 90.5 is a publicly funded media outlet, supposedly reporting on and representing the listeners of Southwestern Pennsylvania, a region that has trended Republican in recent years and likely will in years to come. According to the station’s 2020 tax filings, taxpayers supported its content to the tune of $1.4 million. Taxpayers funded this story, and many others that are continuing to inflame and manipulate our emotions.
I asked WESA’s editors if they could have framed this article differently, and whether they feel the need to reflect the perspectives of all of their potential listeners in Southeast Pennsylvania. They declined repeated requests for comment.
The investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, an expert on biased media and the author of The Smear, tells me that the social platform Gab has been a repeated target of legacy media outlets. “The ‘tell’ is that when mass killers, dangerous conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites and other horrible people post their damaging content on Twitter and Facebook, as they often have, there is no mob pushing to fault, de-platform, and smear those entire companies. But when one of them uses Gab, the smear artists immediately claim Gab is somehow uniquely providing safe harbor for such views.”
I find Doug Mastriano and the figure he cuts in politics to be unsavory at best — I value some level of moderation in a candidate, and a desire to expand the base rather than simply turn out die-hards. I probably wouldn’t like most of the content on Gab. But as a Jew, and as an American, I find plenty of anti-Semitism across social media — and in reality as well. And I resent the use of eleven Jewish lives taken at worship for a partisan hit piece.
I am concerned about polarizing social media platforms. But the content has grown more polarizing through the actions of deplatforming mainstream conservative thought and driving right-wing people off of “mainstream” outlets like Twitter and onto places like Gab, where conspiracy theories metastasize. And I believe, as America’s founders did, that the solution to toxic speech is more speech, not less.
Ultimately, Doug Mastriano is not responsible for the Tree of Life shooting. That responsibility belongs to the shooter himself and the white supremacist millieu from which he emerged. Smearing people as anti-Semites for simply sharing space with actual anti-Semites is how we get people to ignore charges of anti-Semitism. And tarring all partisans with the words and actions of the most extreme fringes makes it all the easier for the fringes to welcome them in.
Albert Eisenberg is a millennial political consultant based in Philadelphia and Charleston, SC. He runs the messaging agency BlueStateRed and has been featured on RealClearPolitics, Fox News, the Philadelphia Inquirer and elsewhere. He is a co-founder of Broad + Liberty. @Albydelphia.