The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Newt Gingrich’s media conspiracy theory could use some work

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Come on, Newt Gingrich. You're better than this. If you're going to promote a conspiracy theory, at least make it a believable one.

The former House speaker suggested Monday on "Fox & Friends" that publication of Donald Trump's "do anything" to women tape was part of a media plot to divert attention away from WikiLeaks' release of Hillary Clinton's Wall Street speech excerpts.

"Notice on Friday all the WikiLeaks came out that are really remarkable, where she says terrorism is not really a threat," Gingrich said. "She says to Wall Street, 'I am totally for you guys.' You know, she goes down the list. What happens on Friday? Oh, the news media happens to find an 11-year-old tape that NBC's had the whole time."

Even if we set aside Gingrich's mischaracterization of Clinton's remarks, the holes in his theory about a media "coup," as he called it, are positively gaping.

When Gingrich said "the news media happen[ed] to find an 11-year-old tape that NBC's had the whole time," he implied that NBC had been waiting for just the right moment to put out the recording — a moment when Clinton needed help to bury a negative story.

Here's the thing: NBC didn't post the tape. The Washington Post did — and did so on the day that reporter David Farenthold learned of its existence.

Here's an even bigger thing: The Post published the Trump tape before WikiLeaks published the Clinton speech excerpts. So the idea that the Trump tape story was an attempt to cover up the Clinton speech story is not even plausible.

A good conspiracy theory should be based on claims that — however far-fetched — are difficult to debunk with 100 percent certainty. Ted Cruz seemed to understand this when he said during the Republican presidential primary that journalists were going easy on Trump because they wanted him to win the GOP nomination, thereby giving Hillary Clinton a clearer path to the White House.

That was a pretty wild accusation, but unless you could get in reporters' heads and know their true motivations, there was no way to objectively disprove Cruz's charge. So if you wanted to believe that the mainstream media was deliberately undermining the democratic process, no one could counter with concrete evidence to the contrary.

Another option is to float a theory so vague that it is difficult to even address. Observe Bill O'Reilly on Monday:

"The media organizations that now have ordered their employees to destroy Trump — there's at least three of them," O'Reilly said. "And I can't say who they are right now, because I don't have it nailed down, but I am 100 percent convinced. And these media organizations have actually put out, 'If you support Trump, we're gonna — your career is done here.' And that's how intense it is. ... News organizations have sent — not officially — but through the, you know, corporate grapevine that 'We don't want anybody supporting Trump.' "

Got that? At least three unidentified news outlets that O'Reilly has not nailed down have unofficially ordered their journalists to destroy Trump.

Go ahead. Try to prove O'Reilly wrong. You can't do it, can you? (It's the same challenge someone trying to prove him right would have.)

You can prove Gingrich wrong, though. Unlike O'Reilly and Cruz, Trump's almost-running mate built his theory on assumptions that are demonstrably false.