Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

Reaction to FBI raid in Annapolis reveals one rattled nation under Trump

In a less agitated nation, a story about an FBI raid on the Annapolis office of a Republican political consulting firm might not cause much of a media buzz.

But in a nation where the FBI director has just been fired amid conflicting explanations from the president and a White House communications team that seems in chaos, that report blew up on social media Thursday.

The story drew half a million page views on baltimoresun.com in less than a day. But what was most revealing was that much of the social media discussion tied the raid to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the agency's investigation into links between Russia and members of Donald Trump's administration.

They made that connection despite the fact that original Sun reports included no such speculation. In fact, neither Comey nor Trump were even mentioned in The Sun’s story.

Reddit was a prime site of speculation about the raid on Strategic Campaign Group offices in Annapolis, with 30 percent of traffic to the Sun's story coming from the site.

One Reddit thread included discussion on a possible connection between one of the firm's advisers and Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman now under investigation for his ties to Russia. Related speculation argued for a link between the firm and Roger Stone, another Trump campaign adviser.

And that speculation started to take on the aura of fact on Twitter, with tweets like this one from The Root:  

The Sun report quoted Kelley Rogers, president of the firm that has worked with campaign committees for Maryland Senate and House of Delegates candidates, saying that the FBI investigation concerns work the firm performed during the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial campaign of former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican.

Who knows where this story will go, if anywhere, beyond the Virginia campaign. That's not my beat. What I'm concerned with are the media and cultural aspects of the phenomenal online traffic this raid generated. I believe the reaction shows how conspiracy minded we have become about the federal government under the erratic reign of Trump and how quick we are to rush to our media silos to give voice to those theories.

Only a little more than 100 days into the Trump administration, our nation is already as rattled emotionally as it was in the Cold War of the 1950s, when people concerned about the Soviet Sputnik satellite flying over America started seeing UFOs all over the place. 

It is not only Trump, of course. Huge economic, technological and lifestyle changes have rocked American life in this millennium.

Our teeth were already on edge before November. But several Trump actions, like the firing of Comey this week, have ratcheted the national anxiety level even higher.

And then, factor in our intense political polarization.

The left has embraced the "resistance" metaphor to the point where even Hillary Clinton is saying she's a member. And even some of the most reasonable progressives I know see nothing but dark conspiracies in every action related to the federal government under Trump.

Last week, social media went wild with speculation when the Federal Communications Commission acknowledged it would review an insult-laden monologue about Trump from late-night host Stephen Colbert. Some suspected Trump was using the government to target Colbert and suppress freedom of speech.

What was overlooked -- even in several news reports -- is that the FCC is mandated to conduct a review in response to any complaint from a citizen. It was routine, not Trump shredding the First Amendment.

I would urge folks to try and get some facts, background and context before blasting out conspiracy theories. The Sun offered that, but many did not seem to get past the headline.

Many on Reddit saw the story mainly as a pad on which to launch their own speculation.

But that's me thinking like a journalist.

The anxiety, cynicism, anger and fear reflected in the reaction to the Annapolis raid makes me believe this pehenomenon goes beyond journalism. Many Americans, it seems, are afraid about the state of the country in a way they might not have even been right after 9/11.

We are afraid not just of an enemy without, but a leader within the White House whose actions are neither coherently explained by him nor understood by us.

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
25°