Pretend-skepticism

Naomi Wolf has been reckless with other people’s lives before. Back in 2014 she was peddling conspiracy theories about the ISIS beheadings of journalists and others.

Author and former Democratic political consultant Naomi Wolf published a series of Facebook posts on Saturday in which she questioned the veracity of the ISIS videos showing the murders and beheadings of two Americans and two Britons, strongly implying that the videos had been staged by the US government and that the victims and their parents were actors.

Wolf published a separate Facebook post, also on Saturday, suggesting that the US was sending troops to West Africa not to assist with Ebola treatment but to bring Ebola back to the US to justify a military takeover of American society. She also suggested that the Scottish independence referendum, in which Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom, had been faked.

Lots of people peddle conspiracy theories, but it’s worse and more dangerous when people with some claims to intellectual respectability do it.

despite Wolf’s turn into conspiracy theory, she is still more widely known for her earlier and much-respected work on feminism, as well as her political consulting for the 1996 Bill Clinton and 2000 Al Gore presidential campaigns on reaching female voters. I was taught parts of Wolf’s 1990 book “The Beauty Myth” in school and admit that, until researching her more recent views more fully for this post, still mostly associated her with this and other well-respected work. In other words, I was carrying the assumption that Wolf is a respected and authoritative figure to be taken seriously. I can only assume that I was not alone in this.

I would replace the word “authoritative” with “reliable,” but I agree with the basic point. You don’t expect people who can write respected books to spout dopey (but dangerous) conspiracy theories. You expect people like Trump to do that, not people who can write books.

Her initial posts on ISIS repeatedly stated that confirmation of the authenticity of their beheading videos “has not happened yet.” Wolf said that the media was ignoring “journalistic red flags” in that the sole source of the videos had been “SITE, which is run by an anti-Muslim activist with half a million dollars in US funding in 2004.” (In fact, the videos were widely distributed on open-source jihadist online outlets. Maryland-based nonprofit SITE monitors extremist social media.) She also detailed an alleged incident, which I was not able to confirm, of a website “based in Doha, address registered at a private intelligence firm in the UK” that she said had spread news of a Canadian journalist, who turned out not to exist, taken hostage in Syria.

This culminated in a now-deleted post, reproduced below, suggesting that the ISIS beheading videos had been staged, as had the initial abductions of the two American journalists and two British aid workers killed on camera. She hints that she believes this was done by the US military.

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Now she’s sowing doubt about vaccination on Twitter and Fox News.

I don’t know what gets into people, I really don’t.

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