Last night on MSNBC, Chris Matthews asked Gary Johnson to name three foreign leaders that he admired. Rather than rejecting the question for its implicitly pro-government bias and as a silly thing to ask someone running for president, Johnson tried to answer by listing former Mexican president Vicente Fox and blanked on the name, saying it was another "Aleppo moment." (Maybe soon they'll be calling them Gary Johnson moments.)
Within minutes, social media was ablaze with users who probably couldn't name a world leader (except maybe for Justin Trudeau, who's become something of a favorite of social media progressives) claiming that Johnson couldn't name a foreign leader at all, when the question was about leaders you respected.
It was a dumb question to ask someone running for president of the United States, yet it was a totally unsurprising question from a worshipper of the state like Chris Matthews (who is one of a few media personalities that supported both Obama and President Bush before him).
Today, Green Party nominee Jill Stein, who has some common cause with Gary Johnson around the exclusion of third parties from the mainstream presidential election process, decided to pile on, tweeting out that she could name three world leaders she admired—Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party of Canada; Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom; and the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil.
Politico's Daniel Strauss jumped in to breathlessly report that Stein had also failed to name any world leaders. Stein's answers "aren't technically world leaders, as none holds a top position in their country's government." Technically, of course, that's not the definition of a "world leader." It's almost as arbitrary a distinction as Matthews' definition, which included current and former leaders but not dead ones. Strauss also referred to João Pedro Stédile as one of the three leaders, but technically the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil does not have a formal leadership structure.
The Politico article, which caught my attention when it was shared by Clinton supporters on my Facebook feed, is illustrative of a number of somewhat overlapping phenomena in mainstream media today. It illustrates the willful obtuseness displayed by some members of the media about the things politicians say. I find it difficult to believe that Strauss actually believed Jill Stein thought Corbyn, May, and a leaderless movement were heads of state or government. But if he didn't believe that, the article was intentionally deceptive. It illustrates the stupidity of gotcha moments and the stupidity of trying to exploit the gotcha moments of others. It illustrates the complexity of the so-called "fact check" (Is Jeremy Corbyn a foreign leader? Fact check: depends on your facts) and it illustrates the often vacuous-masquerading-as-deep critiques of candidates some of the media offers up. There are substantive critiques of Jill Stein, and every candidate, that can be made. Willfully misreading tweets and the things candidates say is not one of them.
Responding to my comment based on Twitter, Stein suggested that Politico was "just trying to play gotcha to distract from their favored candidate's awful foreign policy record." It's hard to disagree with that assessment.