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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 5/25/17

That Word "Allegedly"...

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The bulk of the country identifies as "independents" and they're not a patient lot (discussed here). This is who progressives have to look reasonable to when the airship Age of Trump comes crashing to the ground.

There seem to be two groups of Trump attackers these days, those who make statements like "Russia hacked the election and attacked our Democracy" -- in other words, present suspected-but-unproved assertions as fact -- and those who don't present statements as proved unless there's actual proof.

The worst offenders in the first group are people like MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who regularly asserts as true what he only suspects and could never prove if asked. A good example of the second group is MSNBC's Chris Hayes, who is almost always careful to challenge statements like "Russia cyber-attacked our democracy," which Democratic Party guests like Cory Booker almost always lead with, as though reading blindly from the daily talking points.

Hillary Clinton, for example, in her first appearance since the election, talked about the WikiLeaks material this way: "I was on the way to winning until the combination of Jim Comey's letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me, but got scared off."

"Russian Wikileaks" -- so easy to say it rolls right off the tongue.

I'm not just picking on Clinton -- they're almost all doing it. And yet, to stick with the WikiLeaks case for a moment, there's not only no proof that Russia provided hacked material to WikiLeaks, but WikiLeaks itself has always aggressively denied it, stating that the material came to them from an insider, as a "leak, not a hack." A neutral, fair-minded commenter would have to say, at the very least, that the charge is an assertion ... possible but not proved, "alleged" but not solidly demonstrated.

Staying with the WikiLeaks-Clinton case for a moment, there's now even some evidence that the WikiLeaks side of story is the right one. Via Consortium News: "A private investigator looking into last year's murder of Seth Rich, an employee of the Democratic National Committee, has said that the victim's computer shows he was in contact with WikiLeaks and may have leaked Democratic Party emails being blamed instead on Russia." Again, not proof, just allegations, though at least we can see some basis in evidence.

The lack of "allegedly" these days works both ways, applies to comments about and by both parties. For example, from the recent Comey memo report by Michael Schmidt at the New York Times:

The Feb. 14 meeting took place just a day after Mr. Flynn was forced out of his job after it was revealed he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of phone conversations he had had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

How do we know that Flynn indeed lied to Pence? If we don't know, shouldn't the sentence be written "after it was revealed he had allegedly lied to Vice President Mike Pence"? (Even "revealed" is a problem there.) Consider: Flynn may have lied to Pence. Pence may also have known in November what Flynn allegedly "lied" about. In which case, what was the lie? And if the White House already knew Flynn was being investigated for foreign lobbying, what's the point of Flynn lying at all, or even talking about it, beyond a simple, "Nothing to worry about, boss"?

For all these reasons, the quoted passage above definitely needs an "allegedly." Which leads me to this point -- a caution to progressives.

When the Age of Trump Is Over, Will We Look Like "Just Partisans" to Independent Voters?

Almost all of what's talked about so far, all of what people think they know, are just allegations and assertions at this point, just as the pre-election Clinton FBI investigation reports were just allegations and assertions. Perhaps they're all true after all; but perhaps not. At this point there's little produced evidence for any of it, not then and not now. Even the apparently damning Comey memo ("I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo) hasn't been produced, or even seen.

That's right -- it hasn't even been seen by the reporters who reported on it. From the Times story: "The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey's associates read parts of it to a Times reporter." It was read to the reporter? Over the phone? From across a table at Starbucks?

That doesn't mean these stories won't prove true (nor does it mean they will). But we do ourselves no favors when we treat assertions as facts, act too eager to jump the gun on what we want to be true instead of what's known and provable, as many on our side are doing.

The danger is this. It makes us look, on our side, far less even-handed -- and far less principled, meaning "guided by principle and not by mere gain" -- than we're going to want to look later, when Trump and his wrecking crew are gone and we offer ourselves as alternatives to the fallen.

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A writer who contributes to a number of publications, including digby's Hullabaloo, Down With Tyranny, Naked Capitalism, Truthout and Alternet.

On Twitter — @Gaius_Publius

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