Poisoned information wells: How impeachment testimony spotlights plague of conspiracy theories, misinformation
Posted November 9, 2019 11:48 a.m. EST
CNN — Reading through the transcript on Friday of the testimony from Fiona Hill, President Trump's former top advisor on Russia, her commentary on our current information environment was striking. Hill spoke about the prevalence of internet conspiracy theories from fringe outlets like InfoWars, how some people who consume such content do happen to believe it, and how it was ultimately affecting United States policy.
None of what she said was new, of course. The Information Wars have been heavily covered for the last several years. But Hill's personal experience with the ramifications of misinformation and conspiracy theories (she's been a subject of many herself), in addition to her ability to connect the dots to policy decisions, made her testimony hit home.
"A mishmash of conspiracy theories"
During her testimony, Hill was asked about the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, and why it marked a "turning point" for her. Hill said that it was because the accusations against Yovanovitch -- one being that she gave the fired Ukrainian prosecutor a "do not prosecute" list -- had "no merit whatsoever." In her words, it was "a mishmash of conspiracy theories."
Hill explained that such theories were the norm, noting that she had been the subject of similar ones. "My first year of my tenure at the National Security Council was filled with hateful calls, conspiracy theories," she said. Hill told House investigators that she has received death threats, calls at her home, a report of someone hammering on her door, and been accused of "colluding with all kinds of enemies of the President."
Hill explains how John Solomon's reporting lives in same "universe" as InfoWars
At one point, while discussing the various conspiracy theories from outlets like InfoWars, Hill was told, "I know nothing about Alex Jones or anything like that. I'm simply interested in The Hill reporting." Hill noted, however, that the reporting from John Solomon, the Fox News contributor and former executive at The Hill, was intertwined with the entire right-wing media world.
"It's become part of what's become a very large universe of information and stories that are out there on the internet that is really affecting an awful lot of people's judgments," Hill said. Earlier, talking about how Rudy Giuliani "mentioned George Soros repeatedly," Hill observed, "We're in an environment where people believe an awful lot of things."
Vindman pours cold water on Solomon report
Speaking of Solomon... The transcript of testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert, was also released on Friday. In it was a noteworthy exchange between him and pro-Trump Congressman Lee Zeldin.
Zeldin repeatedly asked about the veracity of a March article by Solomon in which the fired Ukrainian prosecutor alleged Hill had given him a "do not prosecute" list. Vindman reputedly said "all the key elements" of the story "were false."
But Zeldin appeared to have trouble believing or understanding him. "Just so I understand," Zeldin said, "Are you referring to everything John Solomon stated or just some of it?" Vindman repeated, "All the elements that I just laid out for you. The criticisms of corruption were false."
Hill's big fear
As Hill was being questioned during her testimony, she made a comment that really spoke to our current moment. "I'm really worried about these conspiracy theories," Hill said. "And I'm worried that all of you are going to go down a rabbit hole, you know, looking for things that are not going to be at all helpful to the American people or to our future election in 2020."