For about 50 years now, as the federal government has increased in size and scope beyond comprehension, businesses have employed lobbyists and consultants to advance their interests in the nation’s capital. Because we live in a period of divided government, when control of the White House and Congress switches frequently, the flow of money into Washington ends up in the pockets of both Democrats and Republicans. These agents of industry schedule meetings, keep tabs on the press, and promote stories favorable to clients and disadvantageous to their clients’ enemies. One can hold differing opinions on the seemliness of this influence peddling—a lot depends on the character of the peddler—while recognizing that it is utterly commonplace. Banal even.
Unless, it seems, the company is Facebook and the consultants are Republicans. If that’s the case, well, we are dealing with a national emergency. Why? Because Facebook’s scale and power have made it an object of justifiable and often hostile interest among government and media elites, many of whom blame the company at least in part for Donald Trump’s election to the presidency in 2016. As for the Republicans—well, no explanation is necessary for faithful readers of the New York Times. They already know Republicans are the worst.
On November 14, 2018, the Times published “Delay, Deny, and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis,” by Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Confessore, Cecilia Kang, Matthew Rosenberg, and Jack Nicas. This expansive, well-reported article, “based on interviews with more than 50 people,” detailed how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg have responded to attacks. The Times zeroed in on the following business decision: “Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil-rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.”
Why is Facebook’s relationship with the firm, Definers Public Affairs, newsworthy? Because applying “political campaign tactics to corporate public relations,” while “long employed in Washington by big telecommunications firms and activist hedge fund managers,” is “less common in tech.” Really? Maybe the paper should check to see whether the Obama alumni who populate the executive suites of Amazon, Apple, and Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are strangers to “political campaign tactics.”
I don’t mean to spill the beans here, but the sources who provide material for news stories, including exposés of Facebook, always have an agenda. Always. It’s the reporter’s job to check the facts, allow the subject of the story fair comment, and write up the back-and-forth as dispassionately as possible.
At least that’s how things are supposed to work. For its part, the Times seemed more incensed that Definers asked journalists to examine George Soros’s role in the anti-Facebook campaign than in, you know, any of the actual details of that campaign:
“Facebook also used Definers to take on bigger opponents, such as Mr. Soros, a longtime boogeyman to mainstream conservatives and the target of intense anti-Semitic smears on the far right,” the Times team wrote. “A research document circulated by Definers to reporters this summer, just a month after the House hearing, cast Mr. Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.”
Criticism of Soros ought to be tempered and fact-based, especially after the atrocity at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October. But the fact that Soros is a target of anti-Semites does not exempt his ideas or his political giving from scrutiny, investigation, and dissent. Was Soros tied to anti-Facebook activism or not?
The hedge-fund billionaire and progressive mega-donor, the Times said, was “a natural target.” They write: “In a speech at the World Economic Forum in January, he had attacked Facebook and Google, describing them as a monopolist ‘menace’ with ‘neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions.’” Doesn’t sound friendly.
And what did Facebook’s paid defender do in response? “Definers pressed reporters to explore the financial connections between Mr. Soros’s family or philanthropies and groups that were members of Freedom from Facebook, such as Color of Change, an online racial-justice organization, as well as a progressive group founded by Mr. Soros’s son. (An official at Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations said the philanthropy had supported both member groups, but not Freedom from Facebook, and had made no grants to support campaigns against Facebook.)”
Read that again, and note: Definers never said Soros had given money directly to Freedom from Facebook, which calls on the Federal Trade Commission to break up the tech company. It asked reporters to look at the financial connections between Soros and the Freedom from Facebook coalition—connections the Open Society Foundations freely admit!
Members of that coalition also include Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Linda Sarsour’s MPower Change. Both JVP and Sarsour support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, or BDS, movement that is waging economic warfare on the Jewish state of Israel. Is it really surprising to the Times that, when Freedom from Facebook activists swarmed a House Judiciary Committee hearing last July carrying images of Zuckerberg’s and Sandberg’s heads atop octopus tentacles encircling the globe, “a company official flagged” the pictures “as anti-Semitic”? Or that the Anti-Defamation League denounced the act? Or that “the criticism was soon echoed in conservative outlets including the Washington Free Beacon, which has sought to tie Freedom from Facebook to what the publication calls ‘extreme anti-Israel groups’”?
Speaking as editor of the Free Beacon, let me say for the record that my publication hasn’t “sought to tie” Freedom from Facebook to what are by definition extreme anti-Israel groups. We’ve sought to report the truth. And the truth is that any group whose coalition includes Jewish Voice for Peace and Linda Sarsour, and whose members go around with images of two Jews with tentacles controlling the world, needs to take a time-out in the corner.
To its credit, the initial Times story also included a passage detailing how Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, a longtime recipient of donations from Silicon Valley, warned Senator Mark Warner of Virginia to temper his efforts to regulate Facebook. It also noted that one of Schumer’s daughters is a Facebook employee in New York City. This high-level politicking by one of the most powerful men in America, however, is consigned to a few paragraphs at the end of the piece. The real story, for the Times, is Facebook’s hiring of a Republican firm.
On November 15, the Times published “A Look Inside the Tactics of Definers, Facebook’s Attack Dog,” by Jack Nicas and Matthew Rosenberg. Schumer was not mentioned at all. Nor were the partners of Freedom from Facebook to whom the Open Society Foundations had made grants. Instead, the reporters covered Freedom from Facebook like it was the March of Dimes: Definers’ mission, they wrote, “was to persuade reporters that the coalition was not a sincere movement of like-minded groups but rather an orchestrated campaign by a rich, partisan opponent.” Who wants to bet that the Times won’t be as understanding in its next piece on conservatives?
On November 21, in “How Facebook’s P.R. Firm Brought Political Trickery to Tech,” Nicas revised history further. “Definers,” he wrote, “encouraged reporters to write about the financial connections between anti-Facebook activists and the liberal financier George Soros, drawing accusations that it was relying on anti-Semitic tropes.” Hold it right there, cowboy. It’s the people holding pictures of Jews with tentacles who are the anti-Semites, not the public-relations schlubs asking friends to look at a research document.
In the space of two weeks, Definers went from doing what everybody in Washington does every single day to losing its contract with Facebook and being portrayed in the world’s most important newspaper as “relying on anti-Semitic tropes.” It’s another example of the anathematization of partisan and policy differences, from same-sex marriage to climate change to Second Amendment rights to American Jews who voted for President Trump. No matter the issue, the message is the same: Republicans and conservatives have no place in polite society. And must be shunned.