Distrust of the mainstream media is not just an alt-right problem. Some on the left also believe that the major news outlets like the Washington Post and the New York Times are in the pocket of big government and are committed to telling us the party line. One story driving that belief on the left is the class action lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee, in which plaintiffs claim that the DNC rigged the Democratic primary in favor of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.
Filed in June 2016, roughly three weeks after Clinton clinched enough delegates to become her party’s presidential nominee, the lawsuit alleges that the DNC, under former chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, violated Article 5, Section 4 of its charter, which states that the DNC will operate with total neutrality during primary elections. The lawsuit is demanding that that the DNC repay its donors, citing misappropriation of funds. Essentially, the plaintiffs are charging fraud against a major political party—but in the turbulent age of President Donald Trump, the mainstream media doesn’t seem to care.
In a strange turn of events, the lawsuit has some far-left Sanders supporters praising Infowars and Breitbart, alt-right outlets that have fervently reported on it, and decrying mainstream outlets for failing to do so. “News can come from unconventional sources,” says Elizabeth Lee Beck, a personal injury lawyer who is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit alongside her husband, Jared Beck. She describes an article by Milo Yiannopoulos about the lawsuit, for example, as “well-written and accurate.” Because of the reputation outlets like Breitbart and Infowars have for publishing fake news, however, critics have taken their coverage as evidence that the DNC lawsuit is bogus, pointing out that the alt-right sites have something to gain by stoking the flames of Democratic infighting.
In April of this year, Committee attorney Bruce Spiva argued in a motion hearing that whether the DNC did in fact rig the primary to favor Clinton is irrelevant. Giving a donation doesn’t give anyone the right to enforce the party’s internal rules, he noted. “There’s no right to not have your candidate disadvantaged or have another candidate advantaged,” Spiva said. “There’s no contractual obligation here.”
The lawsuit has some far-left Sanders supporters praising Infowars and Breitbart, alt-right outlets that have fervently reported on it.
The most notable thing about Spiva’s statement is that he didn’t deny favoritism by the Committee. So why didn’t every newspaper and website tweet out headlines declaring “DNC Admits to Screwing Sanders” the next day? That’s the issue around which more than 59,000 members of the DNC Fraud Lawsuit Facebook group are coalescing, with many claiming a top-down “media blackout” has worked to keep the lawsuit quiet. Some have gone so far as to claim the Washington Post is owned by the CIA. “Some people speculate that the reason the mainstream media won’t run this story is that they’re complicit,” Beck says. “It is premature to say with certainty who else was involved in that collusion. If the mainstream media knew, then perhaps it would not be surprising that they would have no desire to cover this story.”
Washington Post political reporter Dave Weigel has another explanation. “The media doesn’t report on aliens in Area 51 either,” he explains to Playboy. “It’s not a black-out if you check out something and it doesn’t pass the test.”
Weigel called the suit “frivolous” in an article about the Seth Rich murder conspiracy theory, of which lead council Jared Beck was a propagator. That theory, endorsed in a since-redacted Fox News story, alleges that Rich, a DNC staffer, helped leak DNC emails to Wikileaks last year—and was killed for doing so. In May, a week after Fox News posted the story, the network released a statement saying, “The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting” and that “Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed.”
The Washington Post then published an op-ed by Rich’s parents wherein they called on the media and public to “stop politicizing” their son’s death. The couple also served a cease and desist order to the private investigator Fox News cited as a source behind the murder claims.
Weigel used the Seth Rich story as an example of how fake news can spread on the internet. After Weigel’s story ran, Jared Beck took to Twitter to call it a “hit piece” and, in Trumpian fashion, nicknamed him Daffy Dave Weigel. Followers chimed in and began calling Weigel a “corporate puppet.” He responded by tweeting, “I didn’t write about his lawsuit after reading the transcript and finding it meh. Glad I stayed out of the fever swamp.”
Talking to Playboy, Weigel says, “I assessed that [the lawsuit] was making these big leaps, and I mentioned one of them, which was trying to say the DNC should be held responsible for being hacked. I spend a lot of time covering things that seem unstable to me, and I recognized this.”
Because political donations don’t come with any promise of returns, there’s no foundation to claim fraud.
“It was somebody blowing something way out of proportion,” he continues, referring to Beck’s “conspiratorial mindset.” That assessment, he says, is partially based on Beck’s participation in spreading not only the Seth Rich murder theory, but also Pizzagate, the conspiracy theory that claimed that Hillary Clinton was somehow connected to a child sex ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor. The story was disproven, but not before it led to a widely publicized shooting.
Josh King, chief legal officer for legal marketplace Avvo, concurs with Weigel’s evaluation that DNC case is a far reach. In addition to having to prove intentional falsity, he explains, “The plaintiffs would also need to show that they relied on those false claims. That may work if you’re talking about someone bilking the public by selling fake investments or products, but political donations? Unlike most investments, where goals are obvious, people donate to politicians and political campaigns for all sorts of reasons, including regularly supporting candidates who they know are going to lose—either as a statement or in the hope that their support will drive the winning candidate to change his or her platform. There’s none of the connection necessary to prove out fraud.”
In other words, because political donations don’t come with any promise of returns, there’s no foundation to claim fraud. “This is more about the brittle and divisive nature of politics than it is about the type of behavior that courts deal with in fraud cases,” he adds. “The DNC fraud lawsuit isn’t likely to go anywhere.”
Elizabeth Lee Beck, however, is confident in their case. “Our position is that we can prove every element that is required to be proved in a court of law,” she says. “I think that a lot of the arguments that Mr. Spiva made in court are completely meritless. To say that there is no contractual obligation is neither here nor there because this is not a breach of contract case. You don’t need a contract for fraud.”
“If you look at the Democratic primary, there is no question that misrepresentations were made,” she says. And as for whether they can prove that the plaintiffs relied on those false claims to their detriment? Beck uses the example of one of the most recent fraud suits in recent history: “Bernie Madoff defrauded a bunch of people. What did he defraud them of? Money. They found reliance in that case. So, roll that around in your head.”
Whether the case has merit or not, the claims of a massive media conspiracy are weak. Any claim of a “media blackout” is a claim that the media is one big monolith that moves in tandem. That itself is a major red flag. There is no system of top-down decrees whereby every TV network, magazine and newspaper is told which topics do and do not fit the objectives of their political puppet masters—and no, I’m not just saying that because the CIA handler that works in tandem with my editor at Playboy told me to. In fact, that is the kind of limitation on free press that millions of journalists have fought against since the birth of journalism, and with fresh fervor since the beginning of the Trump administration.
While it does seem strange at first glance that a lawsuit against the DNC has received such little attention, it’s clear—with even minimal due diligence—that the lack of coverage isn’t because the media is involved in a massive cover-up. Rather, numerous journalists who work for outlets other than Infowars and Breitbart have vetted the case and determined it to be baseless. Now that Donald Trump is already campaigning for 2020 and Steve Bannon is back helming Breitbart, however, don’t be surprised if you start hearing about the lawsuit a lot more.