This was the Easter when ‘ratfucking’ became more popular than chocolate rabbits. That inglorious term, you might know, comes from the book All the President’s Men and describes the ugly business of smearing a political rival. Whether the business of the weekend was an authentic example of the ratfucker’s art is unclear. What we do know is that The National Enquirer published accusations about Senator Ted Cruz that needn’t be repeated except to say that there were five of them and they all appeared to be brunette. Cruz immediately blamed Donald Trump for the smear. Donald Trump claimed innocence as his supporters set about blaming Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio kept quiet as the internet began the hard work of putting names to the pixelated heads. It wasn’t long before they’d figured out three of the five.
Two of the women named have largely escaped the Twitter mob who turned their vitriol on the former director of Ted Cruz’s communications, Amanda Carpenter. Carpenter has battled on to defend her name as well as the name of her former boss but the smears became increasingly outrageous. If The National Enquirer’s story was at first mildly amusing (and Ted Cruz seems to hold hands with Jesus so often that a sex scandal would be heavy with delicious irony), they were less funny as the weekend developed. Carpenter’s Twitter feed was made the subject of forensic examination by legions of dim-witted sleuths who proved that you can make a conspiracy out of any two unrelated facts. That Carter and Cruz shared the same fake Churchill tattoo last April Fool’s Day was seen as somehow indicative of shady goings on. Cruz had appeared on a morning TV show to show off his tattoo and he did so without his jacket. Clearly the joke was set up and Cruz needed to have his jacket off in order to roll up his sleeve. That wasn’t enough for the Twitter detectives who decided that his ‘missing’ jacket was the very jacket Carpenter was seen wearing in a photograph where she was showing off a similar tattoo.
Worse, all manner of dirty tricks have been employed to make the case against Cruz. A picture of Carpenter in a hotel room was Photoshopped to suggest that anybody tinkering with the colour/brightness in would be able to reveal that a black object next to her was, in fact, a packet of condoms. It didn’t and, one should beg to ask, even if it had done, what would it have proved? The situation gets murkier still as some have tried to establish the paternity of children unrelated to Carpenter but who featured in an innocent photograph she just happened to have retweeted some time ago. Suddenly, every child in the world has Cruz’s ears or his oddly-shaped eyes.
After four days and countless millions of tweets, a compelling case has only been made if you find hearsay, conjecture, and guesswork to be at all compelling. The only verifiable ‘evidence’ to come to light was that provided by Roger Stone, professional political consultant and master of the political dark arts. It was Stone who suggested that Cruz’s unwillingness to (as yet) sue the Enquirer might be seen as an admission of guilt. He might have a point in that the gossip news site Gawker currently faces bankruptcy after a judge awarded former wrestling star Hulk Hogan $140 million in punitive damages after the website published a sex tape in which Hogan featured in a four poster. In such a climate, one would imagine that Cruz would be in line for a sizable payout if the Enquirer’s article proved false.
Except nothing is that simple… Assuming Cruz is innocent of the charges laid before him, would he still wish to have his private life scrutinised in court? It’s easy to moralise and say ‘if he’s innocent he would’ but that is to ignore the obvious reality of what such a case would involve. It would suit any accuser to make the case long, complicated, and extremely dirty. Private detectives would be let loose on Cruz’s life to drag up every scintilla of evidence, from as far back as they could rake it. Would he subject his family to that? Could he subject his wife to that? Try to put your political sympathies aside for the moment and think what you would do.
Perhaps in the time between my writing this and you reading it, evidence might come to light but, as of now, the evidence is simply non-existent. All the weekend has really proved is that some parts of the American electorate hate their political opponents with such a pathological passion that they care little about the truth. They’d happily destroy an innocent man simply because his politics are wrong. They are engaged in a version of Chinese Whispers made even more whispery by their general ignorance and eagerness to find filth wherever they look. In such a climate, a rumour doesn’t take long before it achieves the status of a fact. One fact is braced with another it becomes a narrative. Build enough narratives and the whole thing begins to look like a structure that is self-supporting and exactly the shape of reality.
That the mainstream media (the MSM) and Twitter have not touched the story should tell a wise observer that the evidence is not yet strong enough for real journalists to run with something that began (and remains) a rumour. To the conspiracy nuts, it’s a sign of a story being suppressed. Yet if this story is being suppressed then perhaps America’s news operations are better than advertised. It has never been the business of journalists to affirm the stupidity of the populace by chasing them down whatever dark alley a mob’s salacious yet sanctimonious whims take them. Conjecture can be fun but this weekend went beyond conjecture. It started to hurt people, potentially including children, who in no way asked to be part of an episode that started as an attempt to shame Senator Ted Cruz but looks to be ending with the shaming of the American public.