In January, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska took to the pages of The Atlantic to address “the blossoming of a rotten seed” of conspiracy theorists allegedly taking hold of his own party. He wrote:
When Trump leaves office, my party faces a choice: We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them. We can be the party of Eisenhower, or the party of the conspiracist Alex Jones.
So it’s both befuddling and disappointing that just nine months later, Sasse was not just willing to sit down face-to-face with a powerful conspiracy theorist, but failed to call out the ways this individual threatened American institutions and the many cable-news fantasies he stoked.
The Atlantic Editor in Chief Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Sasse at The Atlantic Festival last week, where the reason for the senator’s appearance is likely two-fold. Sasse is, as Goldberg himself described at the onset of the interview, someone who “veered” from the “Trumpian norm,” so that means he’s a good Republican and useful for The Atlanic’s purposes. Second, while The Atlantic would likely love to bring other conservatives on stage for harassment, other conservatives, unlike Sasse, do not care to be liked by The Atlantic’s audience enough to engage in such an unfair public lashing.
But none of that matters because Sasse’s reason for engaging with a conspiracy theorist is far less interesting than how he engaged with a conspiracy theorist, which is to say, not how someone who purportedly wants to defend “our best American institutions and traditions” should.
Goldberg’s track record of pushing unsubstantiated, and even thoroughly debunked, claims dates back all the way to 2002, when he peddled reports about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be utterly inaccurate. Fast forward to 2016 where, under Goldberg’s leadership, The Atlantic was at the front of the corporate media pack in pushing the conspiracy that Donald Trump colluded with Russia to steal a presidental election (“It’s Official: Hillary Clinton Is Running Against Vladimir Putin,” Goldberg wrote himself in 2016). It was also under Goldberg’s leadership that The Atlantic became eager defenders of the Chinese Community Party in the early days of the Wuhan virus pandemic, a name they deemed “xenophobic.”
Finally, it was Goldberg’s own reporting,