WHEN A ‘CONSPIRACY THEORY’ TURNS OUT TO BE…NOT A THEORY. On Monday, the New York Times published a story about Konnech, a small election software company that has just 27 employees, 21 based in Michigan and six in Australia. The paper reported that Konnech has been the target of “election deniers” who have made it the focus of “a new conspiracy theory about the 2020 presidential election.”
“Using threadbare evidence, or none at all,” the New York Times’s Stuart A. Thompson reported, the “election deniers” said Konnech “had secret ties to the Chinese Communist Party and had given the Chinese government backdoor access to personal data about two million poll workers in the United States.”
In the last two years, the New York Times added, “conspiracy theorists have subjected election officials and private companies that play a major role in elections to a barrage of outlandish voter fraud claims.” But now, “the attacks on Konnech demonstrate how far-right election deniers are also giving more attention to new and more secondary companies and groups.”
Konnech officials assured the New York Times that “none of the accusations were true.” Thompson reported that employees “feared for their safety” from right-wing violence and that “Konnech’s founder and chief executive, Eugene Yu, an American citizen who immigrated from China in 1986, went into hiding with his family after receiving threatening messages.”
Any reasonable reader would come away with the conclusion that Konnech, an innocent company that makes products to deal with “basic election logistics, such as scheduling poll workers,” has been the target of crazy, and possibly dangerous, conspiracy theories. To press the point, the New York Times used the phrase “conspiracy theory” or “conspiracy theorists” nine times in the article, once in the headline — “How a Tiny Elections Company Became a Conspiracy Theory Target” — seven times in the body of the story, and once in a photo caption. Got it?
Fast forward one day. Twenty-four hours. The New York Times published another story about Konnech, this one headlined, “Election Software Executive Arrested on Suspicion of Theft.” Thompson reported that Yu had been “arrested by Los Angeles County officials in connection with an investigation into the possible theft of personal information about poll workers.”
From the New York Times: “The company has been accused by groups challenging the validity of the 2020 presidential election with storing information about poll workers on servers in China. The company has repeatedly denied keeping data outside the United States, including in recent statements to The New York Times.” And then: The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office “said its investigators had found data stored in China.” And this is from the New York Times on the core of the matter:
Konnech came under scrutiny this year by several election deniers, including a founder of True the Vote, a nonprofit that says it is devoted to uncovering election fraud. True the Vote said its team had downloaded personal information on 1.8 million American poll workers from a server owned by Konnech and hosted in China. It said it obtained the data by using the server’s default password, which it said was ‘password.’ … The group provided no evidence that it had downloaded the data, saying that it had given the information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Konnech denied all wrongdoing. Yes, it owned a subsidiary in China, it conceded, but there have been no data breaches. Konnech actually sued True the Vote for defamation and for stealing its data. And now, Konnech’s founder and top executive is charged with doing what True the Vote said the company was doing.
In a statement, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon stressed that Konnech’s alleged crimes did not affect any election results. “The alleged conduct had no impact on the tabulation of votes and did not alter election results,” Gascon said. “But security in all aspects of any election is essential so that we all have full faith in the integrity of the election process.”
We’ll see how the case progresses. But for the moment, look at it as a media story. Why does the New York Times appear so gullible in this matter? Why was it not more skeptical of Konnech’s claims? Why did it not at least signal to the reader that all might not be as it seemed? Probably because the first Konnech story, the Monday story, appeared intended, more than anything, to knock down those “conspiracy theorists” and “election deniers” who are the bad guys in the play. The New York Times appears to have shifted into reflexive, us vs. them, mode in an effort to defend the result of the 2020 election.
But here’s the thing: It is possible to believe that the 2020 election result, Joe Biden’s victory, was legitimate and also believe that there were problems in a variety of areas of the election. After all, it was an unprecedented election. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers and local officials around the country rushed huge, never-before-attempted changes in election procedures into effect for the voting. How could there not be problems? Indeed, we are still dealing with the after-effects of those changes, undoing some and reforming others.
But in the Konnech story, the New York Times just jumped to the defense of the good guys against the bad guys. Why? The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney tweeted, “It’s the same reason everything about Hunter Biden’s laptop was considered disinformation right away, deserving of a media blackout.” In other words, The New York Times assumed — a simple, unexamined, emotion-based assumption — who the good guys were and who the bad guys were in the story. And in this case, it appears, the paper got it wrong.