(New York Post) When Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced his primary challenge to Joe Biden in April, the media shrugged him off as a meme candidate who would soon collide with political reality. Two months later, Kennedy is polling as high as 20% and his campaign is gaining momentum. And the media — unwilling to let Biden be primaried by this pedigreed populist — have decided it’s time to step in.
And step in they have. Over the past weeks, major print and broadcast organizations have laid the foundations for a powerful narrative designed to hobble Kennedy’s campaign before a single vote is cast. The strategy is to disqualify Kennedy by labeling him a font of misinformation, out to serve America’s monied technocrats. In other words: a Republican in Kennedy clothes.
Earlier this month, Kennedy joined Elon Musk for a live Twitter Space, the first ever by a presidential candidate. The response from the fourth estate was instant derision.
The New York Times set the pace with a takedown brimming with accusations and innuendo. From word one, the article didn’t hesitate with its heavy-handedness — accusing Kennedy in its headline of “Pushing Right-Wing Ideas and Misinformation.”
Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has emerged as one of the first prominent business/tech leaders to throw his weight behind RFK Jr.REUTERS
The problem is that the article — which includes zero sources and little in terms of comment from the Kennedy campaign — provides no support for this claim. In lieu of actual facts, the Times presents “fact-checks,” claiming, for instance, that Kennedy advanced a conspiracy theory by questioning the outcome of the 2004 Bush-Kerry election. Guess who else questioned the validity of that election? The New York Times in a lengthy November 2004 editorial.
2024 pRFK Jr. holds views that many might characterize as “conspiratorial” — including the belief that the CIA was behind the death of his uncle, JFK (on the right with RFK in 1957).Corbis via Getty Images
The same day as the Times hit piece, The Washington Post weighed in with a 3,600-word bruiser. In its first sentence, the article claims that Kennedy “campaigns on the idea that powerful people have been working in secret to deceive you.” That’s partly true: One of Kennedy’s most scrutinized claims is that big pharma is pushing what he considers to be unsafe or unproven drugs, particularly vaccines. But this take reduces Kennedy, an environmental lawyer, to nothing more than a high-profile crank.
“His entire worldview has become a conspiracy theory,” said a source in the Washington Post article to make it seem as if Kennedy’s controversial vaccines views reflect his thinking on everything else. They don’t.
RFK Jr raised eyebrows earlier this month when he became the first presidential candidate in history to participate in a Twitter Space conversation with Elon Musk.AP
Nevertheless, MSNBC picked up the WaPo piece and ran with it, bringing the article’s author on air for an interview. Probably not by coincidence, the interview was conducted by former Biden White House press secretary, MSNBC host Jen Psaki, who did the heavy lifting for her one-time boss. “Conspiratorial thinking is not just a right-wing phenomenon,” Psaki said. “It’s found across the political spectrum, including among self-described Democrats.” Psaki spent the next eight minutes focused on just one “conspiratorial self-described Democrat”: Robert Kennedy Jr.
Facebook billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya recently hosted a fund-raising event for RFK, Jr.Getty Images for Vanity Fair
In case you think I’m cherry-picking, consider that Vanity Fair asked (like the Times) if Kennedy’s “Anti-Vax Conspiracies Have Found a Home” among tech leaders. Washington Monthly suggested journalists refrain from covering this “crackpot” (also in the headline). Politico sloppily characterized Kennedy’s tech-industry support as owing to his “connection to an imagined American past, combined with his facts-be-damned insistence on an elite conspiracy to engineer [America’s] future.”
Slate announced that the other Kennedys “really hate” RFK Jr. Even across the pond, the Guardian lamentingly asked that of the 100 million Americans eligible to be president, “Why are we left with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.?”