O’CONNOR: Which ‘Conspiracy Theories’ Are Actually True?

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John O’Connor Contributor
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As the new Republican-controlled House is soon to be seated, Democrats yell that any Congressional investigation of Hunter Biden is just another “conspiracy theory” promulgated by “right wing” partisans.  This charge raises the question: which “conspiracy theories” are indeed elaborate ruses, and which are reasonably based in fact? 

The words “conspiracy theory,” standing alone, constitute a meaningless phrase.  Virtually every white-collar criminal prosecution is based on conspiracy. For instance, Elizabeth Holmes, of Theranos ignominy, and her co-conspirator Sunny Balwani were recently proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have criminally conspired to defraud investors. So many conspiracy theories are solidly provable. The salient inquiry, then, is which alleged conspiracies are grounded in evidence and which are not.  

But, sadly for the professedly intellectual, left-leaning media, their claims of false conspiracies of the Right do not have the same record of evidentiary success as the corresponding narratives of the unwashed “right wing” they so arrogantly dismiss.

Hunter Biden’s tableau, helpfully for this discussion, features equal and opposite conspiracy theories.  Supposedly crazy conservatives have long contended that there was a basis for a corruption investigation, while snobbish lefty elites suggested that the “laptop” claims were in fact “Russian disinformation,” causing most media and tech companies to de-platform the story during the 2020 election.  Thus, a false conspiracy of the Left clearly pushed Joe Biden into the White House, because the consequent quashing of the story prevented most voters from learning about potential corruption at the top of the Biden team.

Of course, as any person with an ounce of sense would have reasonably inferred, the “Russians” would have had no capability to forge thousands of emails, accompanied by private pictures of the dissolute young Biden.  And if the laptop is what it seemed to be, then Hunter admitted to his daughter that he shared fees with his father, seemingly for influence peddling to rival foreign actors.  It also would show that the “big guy” was cognizant of Hunter’s business, and indeed was set to own 10% of a concealed Chinese venture.  

Of course, the mother of all competing conspiracy claims is “Russiagate.”  The fable that candidate Donald Trump colluded with Russian President Vladimir Putin was enthusiastically embraced by such luminaries as James “Cardinal” Comey and his FBI, the Mueller Special Counsel team, and, of course, the media.  Yet, twenty minutes on the internet would have revealed to anyone with average reading comprehension that the claims were an obvious canard. After all, the individuals behind the cartoonish fantasy of the Steele Dossier, which purportedly exposed Putin’s pro-Trump wrongdoing, were all Russian intelligence plants or oligarchic agents working to help, not hurt, Hillary Clinton.  So, the anti-Clinton deplorables were proven correct when they claimed that “Russian collusion” was nothing but a hoax, literally a false conspiracy theory.

A side note: While Robert Mueller himself cannot be criticized for a team managed by others, his office repeatedly implied that Professor Josef Mifsud was Russian connected, whereas in fact he was an agent of a friendly “Five Eyes” country sent in to trap lowly aide George Papadopoulos.  Thus, the truth, even from the Special Counsel’s lawyers, was significantly bent toward a false conspiracy theory.

When the COVID pandemic exploded on the world scene, many sensible citizens inferred, one would think reasonably, that this super-lethal virus was created artificially in the Wuhan Virology Center near the outbreak’s epicenter.  

But, no, we were told by our health officials, this virus came from a nearby “wet” market, via a bat whose home was hundreds of miles away.  Anyone who reasoned otherwise was dubbed a “conspiracy theorist,” de-platformed and reviled by the partisan media and their credulous followers.

However, weeks before the epidemic hit the United States, alert scientists uncovered the gene sequencing of the virus, showing artificial genetic “patches” which do not occur in nature.  As Jon Stewart observed, if a river of chocolate was flowing through downtown Hershey, Pennsylvania, maybe, just maybe, the chocolate leaked from the nearby chocolate factory.  

But guilty health officials muffled this evidence as just another conspiracy theory. Unwitting Americans then obediently took their cues from Dr. Anthony Fauci, a concealed sponsor of the reckless “gain of function” research at Wuhan, closely monitored by the Chinese military.  So who was the purveyor of a knowingly false narrative affecting our entire country? 

Once again, the media championed it, while criticizing commonsense skeptics who dissented.  

One prominent “conspiracy” charge is of election “denialism.”  There is no doubt that a blanket claim of a “stolen election” touts a far more simplistic picture than fits the facts.  In contrast, a more provable and malleable allegation of unenforced election safeguards covers a multitude of clearly proven sins of reported election maladministration.  But contrast this with the absurd averments that the 2020 election was the “most secure” in American history and that anyone who suggests otherwise is telling the “Big Lie.”

Many critics of this election believe that Biden probably or most likely won the election, but this seeming consensus misses the point.  Election doubts are not good for democracy.  The best foundation for intelligent, rational doubt about the 2020 election comes from an insightful piece in Atlantic magazine of September 30, 2020, quoting leftish Brookings Institution election experts.  In short, the percentages of projected disqualified votes in urban centers, based on historical statistics, is analyzed in the article, together with the confident opinion that these percentages should rise with the influx of first-time mail-in voters, thereby jeopardizing Biden’s campaign.  However, the projected disqualified ballots never materialized by a factor as high as 90%.  Thus, in a pandemic year, while there are many reasonable inferences explaining this precipitate drop in disqualified ballots, they are not all false conspiracy theories so much as they are principled narratives of citizens with imperfect information.  

The New York Times recently noted that only 50% of Democrats, a disturbingly low number, trust the media.  But of breathtaking significance, only 14% of Republicans have such faith in the media, which they view as consistently wrong, whether from ignorant bias or deliberate shading of the truth.  

The Times places the blame for this lack of trust on “conspiracy theories,” mainly those of Donald Trump and cohorts.  But in fact, much of Trump’s appeal has come from tapping into an already widespread sense of grievance over “fake news.”   It may be wishful thinking, but at some point, the legacy media should look in the mirror and, like the comic strip Pogo, proclaim, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”


John D. O’Connor is a former federal prosecutor and the San Francisco attorney who represented W. Mark Felt during his revelation as Deep Throat in 2005. O’Connor is the author of the book, The Mysteries of Watergate: What Really Happened.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.