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The use of rumour as a political weapon

Written By: - Date published: 8:59 am, November 1st, 2022 - 26 comments
Categories: jacinda ardern, labour, Media, spin, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, us politics - Tags:

Two recent examples have made me wonder about the use of rumour as a political weapon.

The first is in the United States where Nancy Pelosi’s 82 year old husband Paul Pelosi was attacked by a hammer wielding Q Anon adherent whose grasp on reality appears to be tenuous at best.

His intent is clear from what he was yelling out at the time, “where’s Nancy?”  Clearly Paul was incidental to the attacker’s real aim.

If it was not for Mr Pelosi being able to ring police surreptitiously he would probably be dead.  He suffered one hammer blow to the head and police intervention stopped the attack from continuing.

Pelosi suffered a skull fracture and injuries to his hands and right arm.  He is expected to make a full recovery.

Commentary from the right shows how toxic American politics is.

Fox hosts have said that something does not add up, insinuating that there may be some credibility in rumours that the attacker was Pelosi’s gay lover.  Another host expressed surprise that the charge was attempted murder rather than just assault and then alleged it was Democrat soft on crime policies that caused the more serious charge.  Can anyone explain this last comment in a way that makes it sound coherent?

But the most jaw dropping feature of this is the snide spreading of rumours in an attempt to create a new narrative about what really happened.  From Politico:

Former Republican President Donald Trump has so far remained silent online about the Pelosi home invasion, but his son Donald Trump Jr. retweeted a proposed “Paul Pelosi” Halloween costume featuring men’s underwear and a hammer, saying “The Internet remains undefeated.” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, embraced a false anti-LGBTQ conspiracy surrounding the attack, tweeting and then deleting a post suggesting the perpetrator was a “male nudist hippie prostitute.”

Trump Jr.’s and Higgins’ posts followed a deleted tweet from Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, that also gave credence to the same disinformation about David DePape, the 42-year-old perpetrator of the Friday morning attack on the Pelosis’ San Francisco home. DePape’s previous ties to a prominent nudist activist in that city appear to have inspired the false claims that continue to gain traction online among conservatives.

And some Republicans are taking notice of the mismatch between GOP leaders’ official response to the assault — condemning it while rejecting any link to their campaign-trail attacks on Nancy Pelosi — and the less delicate online response by party figures.

Clearly the underlying attempt is to try and protect the right from the horror and ridicule that their followers’ actions deserve.

As a local example the swirling rumour about Jacinda Ardern’s pending resignation as Prime Minister is another example of fact free disinformation being use as a weapon.  The rumour implies either that she is not up to the stresses of the job or that she is disinterested in the job.

The former certainly is simply not true.  She has led the country through truly extraordinary times and has performed immaculately.  Just compare our Covid death rates with the US or UK rates if you need evidence of this.

The latter is also not true.  I can sense concern from her over the nature and extent of verbal attacks on her and on politicians generally.  A recent example where a woman with a sword smashed the front window to Ardern’s office cannot have helped.  But there is a clear determination on her part to get the job done.

Ardern has repeatedly denied the rumour.  From the Spinoff yesterday:

Speaking to RNZ this morning, Ardern said she had “no intention” of changing her position as Labour leader. “If I had a dollar for every rumour… I can also clarify I’m not moving to New Plymouth,” she said (I had not heard this rumour, but Ardern repeated it on Newshub too – did she start it?)

Asked whether she’d subsequently see out the next term if she wins, Ardern added: “When you run for an election you run to win and you run to stay.”

That is the feature of a rumour however.  It can have absolutely no basis in reality yet still be damaging.

This particular rumour has gained some traction because of self admitted speculation from an overpaid radio host which was then amplified and turned into a pseudo academic article by an academic that ought to know better.  Fancy drawing a conclusion from the self confessed uninformed reckons of a radio talk back host?

The intent of the rumour is not to have her stand down.  Instead it is to attack her strengths, the stamina and fortitude that she has shown over five intense years.  People thinking there is the slightest chance she will stand down mean that their judgment of her attributes is downgraded.  And unfortunately there are enough people sufficiently disposed to not rule out gossip out to make this a potent tool.

The best response in my view is to treat the rumour mongers with disdain and point out to them how irrational their comments are.  And to question their motivation and expose their game plan.

26 comments on “The use of rumour as a political weapon ”

  1. Sanctuary 2

    Esquire Magazine
    Volume 68
    Pg. 182:
    Some of (Lyndon) Johnson’s stories reveal the coarsening, almost brutalizing effect of his years in the slaughterhouse politics of the Lone Star State. One of his favorite jokes concerns a popular Texas sheriff who was running for reelection. The sheriff’s opponents had been trying unsuccessfully to think of a good campaign issue to use against him. Finally, one man suggested that “we spread a rumor that he fucks pigs.” Another protested that “you know he doesn’t do that.” “I know,” said the first man, “but let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.”

    • Ad 2.1

      Do read the Anthony Caro biography of LB Johnson, particularly vol 1 about his rise to power in Texas. He had a black ops team that would remind one of Trump's team of poll station attackers.

      • Sanctuary 2.1.1

        Have you got a copy at home or is the internet my friend?

        I am going to be in post-op mode in three weeks so some reading could be in order….

  2. Reality 3

    The constant attacks and vitriol directed at the PM seem to be intent on belittling her in order to try and bolster Luxon's popularity. No matter how many Big Macs he serves I can't see him ever being mobbed for selfies. Her opponents have always been jealous of her and how she relates so well to people.

    Given the ongoing huge challenges this government has had to deal with it is not surprising there is some fatigue showing.

  3. Jacinda Ardern knows that this is a right wing ploy to have her talking about silly stuff.

    She laughed with genuine amusement and then threw a log on the fire, making the interviewer laugh and say "I hadn't heard that one" (moving to New Plymouth).

    That put the "resigning" firmly in the "silly" basket. As ever, onto it.

  4. Barfly 5

    Could have just said "I'm Not John Key"

  5. observer 6

    It's important to remember something called "Duncan Garner Syndrome".

    This is a reliable guide which, in short, says "Whenever somebody starts telling us that Jacinda Ardern will/might/must resign, we can expect that somebody to resign instead".

    A series of National leaders said she will be gone, before they themselves went (and are now forgotten). A collection of commentators assured us (with much confidence and zero evidence) that the PM was on her way out. This isn't new, it started in her first term. She was a lightweight who wouldn't last long, at least according to all the lightweights who didn't last long.

    This is just one example, there are plenty more.


    Duncan Garner then quit the AM show, saying the hours were “brutal”. Of course.


  6. Stuart Munro 7

    The pervasiveness of the rumour machinery needs to be seen to be believed.

    Last week there was going to be a military coup (organized by Jacinda & the New World Order), which is why she was headed for Antarctica. This one came out of Australia apparently.

    Makes Key's reptilian saga look pretty tame really.

    Like it or not, like Whaleoil, it's part of the terrain now.

    Want to win? Write a modern Profumo incident that fits Lax Cruxon.

  7. Ad 8

    Well fair enough Mickey but nature abhors a vacuum and I just can't detect the message focus and attack that Ardern and Labour are going to need to win a third term.

    It's really not that hard to regain narrative power when you have a leader with that kind of communicative skill.

    You just need an actual plan.

    They seem to miss Neal Jones and certainly don't have the equivalent of Munro.

  8. joe90 9

    Fancy drawing a conclusion from the self confessed uninformed reckons of a radio talk back host?

    Or partisan polls.

    Take Georgia, for instance—until about Oct. 21 or 22, Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock had been holding a pretty steady 3- to 4-point lead during October over his GOP rival Herschel Walker in FiveThirtyEight's aggregate. Then the gap suddenly narrowed to about 1 point in the final week of October, Warnock 46.7% – Walker 45.4%.

    What exactly happened to nudge Walker into contention to take the lead? A whole bunch of GOP-slanted polls, that's what.

    Of the seven aggregate polls taken since Oct. 21, five of them were conducted by either GOP-aligned groups or pollsters that use friendly GOP modeling: Trafalgar Group, Rasmussen Reports, Moore Information (Walker poll), co/efficient, and InsiderAdvantage. All of them put Walker in the lead by anywhere from 2 to 5 points.


  9. SPC 10

    And do not underestimate the dead hand of drip-fed duplicity in promoting Winston Peters comeback (no Ardern and inexperienced flyby night lounging).

    The question is the lack of synergy between Peters and Seymour/Luxon – where will they talk – over tea, in an airport sauna or out fishing (one hopes no one drives by to ram their boat) – so its lines off a wharf or a walk along the beach?

    • Incognito 10.1

      where will they talk

      It’ll be at one of Talley’s fine establishments or a racing track.

      • SPC 10.1.1

        There will be one without worker safety issues, but I am not sure about the racing – Luxon may be gambling, as well as alcohol, non compliant.

        • Incognito

          Hmmm, that rules out the cricket and rugby as well and leaves Maccas as the only possible venue.

          • SPC

            That will allow Luxon to bring the wife and kids. Thus demonstrate the three parts of patriarchy, the old man, the one part of a nuclear family and the young man.

            • Incognito

              Yes, a marriage of convenience:

              Something old,
              something new,
              something borrowed,
              something blue,
              and a silver sixpence in her shoe

  10. Rumours are beloved by the Republicans, QAnon and Russian or Chinese funded agitators because they poison the well, making discourse insane and impossible. The fourth estate (MSM) is not innocent in this – there is evidence of collusion with Big Tech and the CIA (or other 3-letter agencies) to kill certain stories, like Assange or Donziger.

    The Right is quite selective in its use of that stuff, because as soon as it takes power it does the same thing, but much worse.

  11. Gabby 12

    I think the best course is to label the funking liars, funking liars.

  12. Jackel 13

    The use of exaggerating words, negative heart strings tugging human interest stories and doubt creating gossip, innuendo and rumours seem to be the current cynical tactics being used by the numpty natz at the moment.

    If the natz want to play the same old tired old political games and want to wind the clock back to 2017 then I've got two words for them: Winston Peters.

  13. Stuart Munro 14

    TVOne has a fresh documentary on the problem, called Web of Chaos.

  14. roblogic 15

    The problem with the MSM narrative and the “anti-conspiracy” debunkers is that there really are tons of bad actors sowing propaganda memes, it’s impossible for the average joe to sift thru oceans of bullshit

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