Debunking “The Hotchkiss Republicans Report”

During the confusing and difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic, political clubs in our community have remained in full swing virtually. In the midst of this global crisis, these clubs serve an even greater purpose: to educate our community about a calamity that pervades every level of politics, from the world stage to local policy decisions. 

The Hotchkiss Democrats and The Hotchkiss Political Union hold weekly meetings, and The Hotchkiss Republicans have been sending out a weekly newsletter entitled, “The Hotchkiss Republicans Report.” As heads of the Hotchkiss Democrats and the Hotchkiss Political Union, we recognize the clubs’ crucial function to inform, foster discussion, and provide a space where all views are accepted and listened to. However, a recent issue of “The Hotchkiss Republicans Report” threatens to destroy the unique bipartisan and intellectual atmosphere of political clubs at Hotchkiss by legitimizing articles containing false information from non-reputable sources. 

Amidst heated political dialogue about the evolving coronavirus pandemic, on Thursday May 14, the Hotchkiss Republicans club released its third newsletter. We are writing this article to call attention to the false and misleading nature of the articles published in this newsletter and the threat that false reporting could have on our community. 

The Hotchkiss Republicans have been sending out a weekly newsletter entitled, “The Hotchkiss Republicans Report.”

The newsletter focuses on “Obamagate,” an incorrect conspiracy theory that emerged on President Trump’s Twitter page beginning on May 10 and started circulating around the conservative media. The “Obamagate” conspiracy theory claims that Obama tried to sabotage the Trump presidency by assigning “Deep State” operatives the task of unmasking intelligence officials involved in the Trump campaign. One of those intelligence officials, the theory claims, was former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn, whose case was recently dropped by the Department of Justice. Flynn lied about colluding with Russian leaders during the 2016 election after phone calls between himself and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak were unearthed. Trump claims that Flynn was targeted by the Obama administration before leaving office due to his public support of Trump during his 2016 campaign. Flynn is one of many former Trump advisors to face such collusion allegations, so his accusations are hardly an anomaly. 

Although several respected news organizations, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, have called  “Obamagate” a conspiracy theory designed to damage Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential prospects, President Trump and right-wing media continue to promote the theory on their respective platforms. Unmasking is common practice. In fact, in Trump’s first full year as president more than 16,700 U.S. citizens were unmasked. Secondly, the “Obamagate” theory has taken several different forms throughout the Trump presidency, including the theory that Obama had his wires tapped and was spying on his campaign. Finally, Trump could not even describe the “scandal” himself. During a press conference on May 11, Trump said, “You know what the crime is, the crime is very obvious to everybody,” yet he never gave an explanation for what the “crime” was. 

Trump has frequently repeated conspiracy theories unsupported by evidence. His support for “Obamagate” comes after his similar advocacy for the unfounded claim that Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii. Although this claim was disproved by the publication of Obama’s birth certificate, the conspirary theory continued to be embraced by alt-right and white supremacist groups. 

The articles shared in “The Hotchkiss Republicans Report” are by journalists who are not reputable or trusty-worthy sources. One article cited in the newsletter was published by the Daily Caller, whose former deputy editor left after publishing articles under a pseudonym that espoused white nationalist, racist, and anti-Semitic views. Another article entitled “‘Obamagate’ Isn’t a Conspiracy Theory, It’s the Biggest Political Scandal of All Time” was published by The Federalist, which has published many articles containing false information about COVID-19. It has denounced social-distancing practices, ignored advice from chief medical experts, and described the so-called exaggeration of the coronavirus as a smear tactic by the Democratic Party to damage Trump’s reputation. The Federalist was blocked from Twitter after suggesting that people hold coronavirus parties and infect young people to produce herd immunity. This type of reporting rests on medical falsehoods that are dangerous to the public. 

A featured button with the title, “Timeline of Obama Administration Collusion against Trump” leads to an article by Sharyl Atkisson, who has published several articles linking vaccines to autism, a claim that has been refuted by medical professionals for years. A final example is Gregg Jarett, a former Fox News anchor, who has lied about the Russia investigation and has claimed that collusion with a foreign government is not a crime.

Leaders of political clubs on campus have a responsibility to discuss politics with the purpose of education in mind, rather than peddling conspiracies that are contradicted by the evidence. Our campus political dynamic has survived, despite a recent onset of a culture that prioritizes division and controversy over curiosity and intellectual debate. To protect our political community, which we have worked so hard to create, political clubs should seek to identify and reject false information and misleading spin of the facts. Sharing non-credible sources is an insult to our community’s integrity.