Dear 2016 readers:
Let’s start with the obvious: I’m so, so sorry.
Right now, I’m sure that you, as informed, educated readers, are frustrated at having to deal with conspiracy theorists arguing that the United States government has formed an Evil League of Evil with the Islamic State, or ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever they’re calling themselves in 2016. Such accusations were bubbling up in 2015, but now they’ve probably gone mainstream.
And I’m to blame for that.
Let me explain. On Wednesday, Sept. 30, I did a quick interview about Russia’s military activity in Syria on CNN’s “Newsroom” with Brooke Baldwin. You can still read a full transcript of that interview.
For a three-minute media hit, it sure resonated. John Oliver excerpted part of it on “Last Week Tonight,” which was cool. But then, the next day, this tweet popped up in my feed:
At first, I thought this guy was just nuts. I still think that, but when I went to the transcript, I realized that I had said the following:
DREZNER: I am somewhat worried about the fact that Russia gave such a short time window to U.S. forces and the U.S.-led coalition to get out of Syrian airspace.
I think the biggest risk that comes from Russia’s operations in Syria is an accidental conflict or an accidental skirmish with the U.S.-led ISIS coalition. But it’s worth remembering that a year ago we were talking about Barack Obama and his decision to actually decide to use airpower in Syria as a way to somehow combat ISIS. And it’s a year later, and at the time, it looked like it was an aggressive show of force.
And we know that a year later, it didn’t work out terribly well. So, I would say that the question about whether or not Putin’s actions in Syria will actually lead to what he wants it to lead to is unclear now. And my hunch is, a year from now, he’s probably going to wish that he hadn’t gotten involved (emphasis added).
BALDWIN: That’s interesting.
I meant to say “U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition,” but I left out the “anti.” Now, if you read it in context, I think you can easily infer what I meant. If I had actually meant that the United States was in league with the Islamic State, I’m pretty sure Baldwin would have pushed me on it.
So, for the record: I meant to say “U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition,” not “U.S.-led ISIS coalition.”
Not that this matters now. As you know, my dear 2016 readers, it’s too late. By now you’ve seen this. Or, even more significantly, you’ve seen this:
According to conspiracy theorists, my slip of the tongue exposed a deep, dark conspiracy that proves the United States government is allied with the Islamic State.
So now this conspiracy theory has taken root. It existed before my slip of the tongue on CNN, but omitting a single prefix has fanned the flames significantly enough so that president-elect Donald Trump is going to have to try to extinguish this at his first post-election news conference. Well, Trump knows about crackpot theories, so he should be able to defuse it before Congress creates a special select committee.
Sometimes, tracing the roots of conspiracy theories is really hard. Danielle Allen had to do a lot of investigating to unearth the source of the “Obama is a secret Muslim” rumor back in 2008.
In this case, however, it is pretty easy. I said something slightly unclear on television. And you won’t believe what happened next.