Character Assassination Theater 101

by | Apr 7, 2023

I don’t normally do the “take” thing in my columns, but I’m making an exception this one time, because I just watched the Mehdi Hasan Show interview with Matt Taibbi (above), and … well, damn.

OK, this isn’t really my “take” on the interview. It more a free lesson on how to deal with character-assassination theater, which is what the “interview” in question was.

Let me make a few points clear before I do that. (1) Matt Taibbi blew the interview. It was not a good performance for Matt Taibbi. I’ll get into why it wasn’t in a minute. (2) I’m a huge Matt Taibbi fan. I’m not at all objective about Matt Taibbi. I like Matt, and I respect him as a journalist. Matt has blurbed my books, and interviewed me. (3) I’ve also been pretty tough on Matt regarding the “Twitter Files” and Elon Musk, but that doesn’t change the fact that I like him, and respect him, immensely, and applaud his reporting on the “Censorship Industrial Complex.”

So, there you go … full disclosure. I am extremely biased in favor of Matt Taibbi.

That said, Matt absolutely blew the interview. He blew the interview because it wasn’t an interview. He showed up to a character assassination armed with … well, not really armed at all. Matt has this weird thing about professionalism, as in he expects people to have some, and exhibit it, occasionally. So, he plugged into The Medhi Hasan Show expecting to do an interview, or something vaguely resembling an interview. What he got instead was 25 minutes of badgering, bullying, smearing, sneering, shouting down his attempts to respond, and other pseudo-inquisitorial abuse.

I’m not going to go on about the “interview.” You can watch it, or as much as you can stand of it. And you can look at the replies to Matt’s Tweet of last night, and note the fanatical, hate-drunk mentality of the totalitarian “New Normal Left.”

Yes, I mean literally totalitarian. I have been describing the “New Normal” as a new form of totalitarianism — a new, global-capitalist form of totalitarianism — for three years. Recently, Michael Shellenberger and other prominent writers have also begun to use the “T-word.” I hope, by now, you can see it clearly. It is still in its very early stages, but all the classic hallmarks are there, none more glaring than the mindless hatred systematically unleashed on anyone questioning or challenging the official narratives the authorities have disseminated … Russiagate, the “Covid pandemic,” “vaccines,” Ukraine, “disinformation,” etc.

You will see it clearly if you watch the interview … the attempt on the part of Mehdi Hasan, not to clarify or correct the facts of the story, or to address the content of the story at all, but, rather, to publicly humiliate an enemy, to discredit him, destroy his reputation, brand him as an official heretic, and offer him up to the fanatical mob to be ridiculed and cursed and spit at.

This could not have been any fun for Matt, but he had better get used to it, as should anyone famous who would challenge the new totalitarianism. Official propagandists like Mehdi Hasan are not “wrong,” or “deluded,” or “confused,” or “misguided.” They know exactly what they are doing. They are doing their jobs. They are, as Matt put it — having, unfortunately, realized it after the fact — attack dogs. They are goons. TV henchmen. Smiley-happy corporate fascists.

Here is how you deal with such people.

You do not let them conduct their “interview” (i.e., their character assassination). You refuse to answer their “questions” on their terms. Instead, you point out what they’re doing. You do this, live, on television. You expose their motives and their tactics. You take apart their questions, one by one, demonstrating to the television audience how character-assassination theater works. You laugh at them, repeatedly, as you do this. You refuse to take the “interview” seriously. You use it as material to expose them as attack dogs, to demonstrate what they are trying to do to you and exactly how they’re trying to do it. You never treat it as an actual interview. Because it isn’t. It’s a trap, so you treat it as a trap.

You never, ever, attempt to defend yourself. The moment you do, they’ve got you. It is over. The trap is designed to put you on the defensive, so you go on the offensive, and you stay on the offensive. You show them no mercy. You will receive none from them.

This is not an easy lesson for people like Matt, who is an actual journalist, with actual integrity, who wants his “colleagues” to act with integrity. You can see the frustration in his face in the “interview.” The problem is, people like Mehdi Hasan, and the other official propagandists who Matt thought were his colleagues, are not his colleagues. There are probably still human beings in there, somewhere, but, at the moment, they are like “The Woman in the Red Dress” in The Matrix. They are parts of a totalitarian machine that is ruthlessly wiping out any and all resistance to its relentless advance. They will destroy Matt, and you, and me, in a heartbeat, the moment they identify us as a threat. Integrity has nothing to do with it.

Incidentally, for those of you who aren’t Matt Taibbi, and so are probably not going to be invited onto The Mehdi Hasan Show, or any other TV show, to have your character assassinated, this lesson also applies to dealing with the trolls and smear-artists that you may occasionally encounter on the Internet, or in other aspects of your life.

I wrote about such an encounter back in 2018 — which feels like a million years ago — and offered up more or less the same advice. I’ll leave you with an excerpt. I hope it’s useful.

“ … that is precisely how the smear game works. The way it works is, the smearers bait the smearee into defending himself against the defamatory content of the smears. Once the smearee has done that, the smearers have him. From then on, the focus of the debate becomes whether or not the smears are accurate, rather than why he’s being smeared, how he’s being smeared, and who is smearing him. This is the smearers’ primary objective, i.e., to establish the boundaries of the debate, and to trap the target of the smears within them. If you’ve followed the fake “Labour Anti-Semitism” scandal, you’ve witnessed this tactic deployed against Corbyn, who unfortunately fell right into the trap and thus gave the smearers the upper hand. No, the only way to effectively counter a smear campaign (whether large-scale or small-scale), is to resist the temptation to profess your innocence, and, instead, focus as much attention on the tactics and the motives of the smearers as possible. It is difficult to resist this temptation, especially when the people smearing you have significantly more power and influence than you do, and are calling you a racist and an anti-Semite, but, trust me, the moment you start defending yourself, the game is over, and the smearers have won.”

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