The 1st Annual Buggies
Celebrating the year's most bug-eyed and shameless. Warning: Here be movie puns.
Good evening. Welcome to the first annual Buggies: Recognizing achievements in misinformation and conspiracy theorizing.
We’re living in the golden age of nonsense. Truth is a debatable point, yellow journalism is back with panache, QAnon is a lifestyle brand, your aunt’s anti-vax intensity has plumbed new depths. Trying to nominate the most deranged in a time of universal bullshit is a tall order.
But that’s what the Buggies is all about: Separating excellence in disinformation from merely impressive misinformation.
It’s been a wild year: From Donald Trump calling for the constitution to be suspended, to Elon Musk turning Twitter into the Joe Rogan Experience green room, to Kanye West’s recent cover of Tomorrow Belongs to Me. And that was just December.
The Buggie’s are about a whole year in conspiracy theories, misinformation, and being so downright crackers that even Parler doesn’t want to deal with you. And there’s so much unhinged bullshit to recognize this year.
Without further ado, let’s get into some of the awards.
Outstanding Lead Anchor in a Propaganda Role
This year may have been dominated by by social media titans, 2022 also reminded us the power of the TV anchor — the person who you invite into your living room every night. A voice of trust and authority. The person for whom you’ll lean in close, pull your blanket tight around your shoulders, and listen to as they comfortingly explain how a shadowy deep state wants to change the racial mix of the country, reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of immigrants newly arrived from the Third World.
And the nominees are…
Tucker Carlson, in: Great Expectations (of Great Replacements.)
Joy Reid, in: Up. (or, How I Learned What Inflation Is, Thanks to the GOP.)
Tucker Carlson, in: The LGBTQ Children of the Corn.
America’s Newsroom, in: For Whom the Hammer-Wielding QAnon Believer Trolls
Tucker Carlson, in: My Dinner With Ye
Lara Logan, in: John Q(Anon)
Vladimir Solovyov, in: The Million Ruble ($13,559 USD) Man
And the winner is…
Tucker Carlson, Great Expectations (of Great Replacements.)
Tucker obviously couldn’t be here, in this newsletter, to accept the award, so I’ll do so on his behalf.
Since the 1990s, the deeply racist theory that the liberal elites (see: Jews) were conspiring to dilute the political power of real whites (see: racists) by importing under-educated, criminal, Marxists (see: immigrants) has percolated on neo-Nazi newsletters, in far-right think tanks, and through online message boards. While it, as an idea, helped inspire some of Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters, it did not become truly mainstream until Tucker Carlson began promoting the idea — often dubbed ‘The Great Replacement’ theory — in 2021. This past year, Carlson doubled down. Despite insisting that he had no idea that this theory actually entailed, he did a pretty damn good job of elucidating it with ease.
For Carlson, this move came with no real consequences. In fact, Fox News decided to meet him where he was at. Conservatives in America, for nearly three decades, sought to inoculate themselves against the worst excesses of white supremacist demonization of immigrants. While we can pretty clearly grade that effort as subpar, 2022 was the year where the damn really broke loose. Racist dogwhistles and bullhorns were out in full force during the midterms, from J.D. Vance in Ohio to Blake Masters in Arizona.
The need to hit the immigration issue may decline in America and the West more broadly in 2023, but Carlson proved conclusively that you can espouse the worst kind of racist dogwhistle and face no real downsides. For that, he’s earned his Buggie. It likely won’t be his last.
Best QAnon Theory
What a year for QAnon. Q themself seemed to be long gone, until they made a brief reappearance, before taking off again. Q flags were spotted in freedom convoys around the world, its followers hatched a plot to do a German coup, we found out that a Japanese toy company had a particular hand in birthing the international conspiracy movement, and Trump has been incessantly retruthing qontent. But a few Q moments from the past year really stick out.
And the nominees are…
And the winner is…
Good Reichsbürger: The first ever German-langauge Buggie winner. The coup plotters are currently in prison, so I’ll be accepting the award on their behalf.
While some may accuse a wide range of fascist plotters of trying to sneak their attempted coup in just before the award season deadline, there’s little doubt that this crew earned this hardware.
German police believe that a rag-tag group of QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theorists could involve as many as 52 different participants. This group of minor nobles, retired paratroopers, current soldiers, Russian helpers, and various other far-right reactionaries were hoping to oust the democratically-elected government in favour of a refried Hapsburg-style monarch. All inspired by the teachings of Q.
While QAnon may well believe most Western states are illegitimate and in need of guillotine therapy, leave it to the Germans to cut through the talk and put a plan in place.
The William Randolph Hearst Lifetime Achievement Award
Ever since Hearst’s New York Journal became an enthusiastic cheerleader for war against Spain in 1898, there has been a strain of newspaper journalism that has privileged the sensational over the true; the salacious over the factual; Hunter Biden’s junk over actual news.
All of those qualities are exemplified in the New York Post.
The Post has had a big few years. In 2020 they took a laptop from Rudy Giuliani and ran with it: The ensuing fracas put on full display just how difficult it can be to separate disinformation from misinformation from just really lousy reporting. That conversation was not helped at all by the Post, and its cheerleaders, making the laptop a litmus test for, well, everything. Either you believed that the laptop was bona fide paydirt, proof of sleaze and corruption inside the Biden clan, and the single thing that would put Donald Trump back into the White House; or you wanted to silence the truth. Twitter happily took up that challenge, and opted for the latter option.
Twitter’s ham-fisted approach to censoring the story, going so far as to block all links to the Post story, was probably the flap of the butterfly’s wings that ultimately led to Elon Musk’s takeover of the microblogging site. That, in turn, led to the laptop story coming back in a big way, with round after round of the excruciatingly boring Twitter Files. It ultimately led to Trump calling for the constitution to be suspended, and for an electoral mulligan.
The Post, obviously, took a victory lap this year when the contents of the laptop were more-or-less verified as legitimate. But not one to rest on its laurels, the tabloid kept up the pace with thinly-sourced alarmism this year. It continued cheerleading for the idea that COVID-19 was designed in a Chinese lab, one of its employees went rogue and unleashed a flurry of racist tweets on the official Post account, the paper incorrectly alleged that a doctor who had to break the law to perform an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim was lying, and so much more.
Tabloids like the Post are often amongst the most effective municipal watchdogs. But when you’re part of the Murdoch empire, you’ve got a bigger political mission. And the Post spent 2022 dutifully carrying out that mission. For that, they are more than deserving of the award.
Outstandingly Paranoid World Leader
Without Donald Trump in office, the other paranoid leaders of the world have had to work twice as heard to make headlines, cow their opponents, and cling to power. Some have fared better than others. Brazil’s conspiracy-theorist-in-chief lost and (somewhat unexpectedly) accepted the results; China’s most powerful leader in generations has consolidated his grip on power even as the Chinese people have taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers; whilst Iran’s governing theocracy is teetering on the brink as it continues to execute its own citizens.
Xi Jinping, as: Winnie the Pooh
Vladimir Putin, as: The Spy Who Pushed Me Out A Window in Rayagada
Jair Bolsonaro, as: The Mercurial Candidate
Bongbong Marcos, as: Demolition Manila
Yoweri Museveni, as: I, Bot
Ali Khamenei, in: Mullah-end Drive
And the winner is…
The Russian president didn’t want to leave his palacial bunker, so I’ll accept the award on his behalf.
It’s hard to compete with Russia’s reigning madman. After two decades in power, and a long list of brutal military campaigns near and far, Putin finally stepped over the line in 2022. His full-scale invasion of Ukraine was based on lies, paranoia, and conspiracy theories. And it’s been a disaster. While many have styled the autocrat as a skilled manipulator, his worldwide disinformation campaign has largely fallen flat. As his military failures stacked up, he has struggled to convince even the most like-minded fascist-curious politicians in North America and Europe that his aims are noble. With the exception of a small rump of QAnon-followers, white supremacists, and Soviet-fetishizing tankies, there has been an impressive cross-partisan consensus that Russia must lose this war of aggression. Nevertheless, you have to appreciate his ambition.
With his chain of losses, Putin’s paranoia has rocketed to new heights. In a year marked by Russians inconvenient to Kremlin falling out of windows, the tempo of clumsy demises has quickened as the year draws to a close. One has to imagine that defenestrations will continue until morale improves.
Best Performance in a Feature-Length Conspiracy Theory
The night’s big award. The greatest honor for those engaged in professional myth-making, bullshitting, subterfuge, and all-around lying — and those who fall for it.
And the nominees are…
The Freedom Convoy, V for Vaccine
Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian History X
Donald Trump, All The President’s Mangled Reasons Why He Actually Won the 2020 Election
Tucker Carlson, Do the White Thing
Ron DeSantis, Lost in Trans-lation
The winner is…
The Freedom Convoy, V for Vaccine. The convoy organizers couldn’t accept this award, as it would violate their bail conditions, so I’ll accept it on their behalf.
It’s hard to stress just how impressive the convoy, and subsequent occupation of Ottawa, really was. A genuinely grassroots movement, spawned by a mishmash of anti-vaccine and COVID-related grievances, it spawned international copycat protests and shut down multiple international capitals. Not bad for a QAnon enthusiast and a handful of pals.
Sure, other nominees may have used conspiracy theories to more nefarious ends — Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, DeSantis’ demonization of trans people, Tucker Carlson’s Tucker Carlsoning — but the anti-vaccine paranoia that underpinned the freedom convoy is a prime example of how radicalization is profoundly personal. When hundreds of cars and trucks took off for Ottawa in frigid January, they weren’t being cheered on by Fox News or Breitbart of the Toronto Sun: At least not at first. They organized themselves, motivated themselves, and indoctrinated themselves with a series of ridiculous claims about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines, the true nature of the pandemic, and the shadowy cabal that secretly runs the world. And they inspired like-minded wingnuts across the globe.
We always spend a lot of time focusing on the politicians, TV hosts, multi-millionaire podcasters, and influencers who spread bullshit — but they are, almost always, rebroadcasters. Conspiracy theories are born at the ground level: The most effective and bug-eyed tales rise to the top, where they are weaponized by the most shameless amongst us.
The freedom convoy taught us that the most powerful tales are the ones that foment organically.
That’s a wrap on the first-annual Buggies.
Was a deserving candidate snubbed? A nominee robbed? A winner deserving? Share your own votes for the best and worst of disinformation in 2022 in the comments below, or in the BE&S chat:
Until next year!
The comedy that these subjects needed. Thanks.
On the one hand, the Ukraine War puts in perspective, our social-media problems that "pain" us as we sit in recliners, snacking.
On the other hand, the prevalence of disinformation as precursor to, and part of, war itself - it puts those little social-media-disinfo problems on a spectrum that starts with lies, and ends in mass murders.
A great roundup.
Justin! This was absolutely worth the price of a subscription! Thank you!