If you followed last month's story about the ousting and reinstatement of University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan, it might surprise you to learn that many Massachusetts Republicans believe that Sullivan was forced out over academic fraud she committed 23 years ago with US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.
That theory was put forward on breitbart.com, the immensely popular conservative pseudo-journalistic Web site. And, while that site later conceded that the UVA situation had nothing to do with the alleged (and entirely unfounded) claim of misconduct, that retraction has not made it to local conservatives — including Rob Eno, proprietor of RedMassGroup, who stood by his post linking to the original article when I spoke with him last week.
This is just one example of how the national right-wing smear machine has begun insinuating itself into the race between Warren and Scott Brown — and it's just a taste of what is sure to come this fall.
Massachusetts races have rarely drawn the full attention of what I have previously dubbed the movement-conservative marketplace, so people here have mostly witnessed its ugliness from a distance, if they've noticed at all.
But the intense interest on the right for the re-election of Brown — and the mocking demonization of Warren — ensures that plenty of money will be spent attacking her, while conservative consumers lap it up. One major site, Michelle Malkin's hotair.com, ran 27 posts about Warren in May alone.
Once they've zeroed in on an enemy, as they have with Warren, the appetite of these national dirt-diggers is insatiable. And nobody here in the state is doing anything but encouraging them.
The writer who produced the academic-fraud story is Tea Party organizer Michael Patrick Leahy. Beginning in early May, Leahy had posted 37 consecutive stories about Warren at breitbart.com's Big Government site when I spoke with him last week. Leahy, listed as a news contributor, declined to say whether he is paid by breitbart.com, or anyone else, for the work.
"The question becomes: if someone is being dishonest about her own heritage, what else would she lie about?" Leahy says. "So, we're looking into her entire academic record, which appears to be very suspect."
Actually, all that Leahy has reported so far is a single accusation concerning the 1989 book Warren co-authored with Sullivan and Jay Westbrook — which was investigated, and found meritless, by both the University of Texas (where the research took place) and by the National Science Foundation (which provided funding). Leahy calls those investigations "a whitewash."
Asked whether he at least regrets posting the baseless and incorrect speculation about the UVA situation, Leahy says, "No, not at all." He was merely setting out the extent of what he knew at the time, he says.
And that misstep hasn't made anybody else in conservative circles hesitant about blindly parroting him; his latest piece on Warren's supposed scientific misconduct was linked to approvingly by plenty of highly trafficked bloggers, such as Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds, and locally by Eno at RedMassGroup. Eno tells me the academic fraud charge "has the potential to be even bigger than the whole Cherokee thing."
WHERE'S THE LINE?
Eno, to be fair, does try to distinguish the credible from the conspiratorial. There are plenty of popular right-wing sites he won't touch, and he makes more efforts than most to seek out responses before posting his own material.