A savage little Twitter feud erupted over this past weekend, with two heavyweight punchers both landing several blows.
It started on Sept 22 when Politico reported that prosecutors looking to convict Lev Parnas plan to call former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt to the stand. Laxalt received two $5000 donations from Parnas’ partner Igor Fruman, who already pleaded guilty in the case. Laxalt is not accused of any wrong-doing; according to Politico, “testimony will show [Laxalt] was deceived into believing the donation was legitimate.”
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Nevertheless, Jon Ralston’s widely read site the Nevada Independent, which has been all over the Parnas-Fruman story since it emerged more than two years ago, made much of the mere mention of Laxalt’s name in proximity to the two sketchy Ukrainian figures.
On Thursday, Hugh Hewitt, the conservative radio talk show host and frequent NBC pundit, chimed in. A frequent critic of left-wing media bias, Hewitt tweeted at Ralston: “Have you ever written an explainer @RalstonReports on why you dislike @adamlaxalt so much? You and I get along but it’s pretty clear you are about as objective on Laxalt as I am on Senator Cortez Masto. Curious as to the why? Adam’s a good man, Navy vet, was a good NV AG, so why?”
Ralston replied less than three minutes later with a George Foreman-like hail of punches, aimed not just at Hewitt but at Laxalt.
“I figured if I posted a @hughhewitt suck-up segment that he might do his thing. Hugh, your ignorance of CCM is on you. And I cheer for no one. I don’t dislike Laxalt. I have zero respect for him, which is well-earned, and he lied about the election, which is disqualifying.”
It was on, baby. And Hewitt’s next uppercut was aimed at that mythical concept — journalistic impartiality.
Now that @RalstonReports has openly declared his contempt for @AdamLaxalt and that the former AG is disqualified from the Senate race, expect Legacy Media to treat his analysis of the Laxalt-Cortez-Masto race as the partisan analysis it is. (Just joking. Not a chance.)
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) September 23, 2021
Hewitt tweeted, “Now that @RalstonReports has openly declared his contempt for @AdamLaxalt and that the former AG is disqualified from the Senate race, expect Legacy Media to treat his analysis of the Laxalt-Cortez-Masto race as the partisan analysis it is. (Just joking. Not a chance.)”
By this point, Nevada’s political class was enjoying the fireworks.
State Republican chair Amy Tarkanian weighed in, “I wasn’t expecting this exchange to happen. Ever.”
But Ralston was hardly looking to be saved by the bell. He hit back brutally and immediately, writing “I usually don’t respond to trolls on Twitter anymore. But your pathetic pandering to your “followers” forces me to. I have not openly declared anything today. My contempt has been imbued from years of coverage of your friend. And you calling me partisan? Partisan, heal thyself.”
Hewitt responded just as quickly, if perhaps with a tad more restraint: “I’m partisan. So are you. In this race I am openly supporting @AdamLaxalt and you are openly supporting @SenCortezMasto Fine. Partisan analysis is actually honest analysis. But when you say Laxalt is disqualified and you hold him in contempt, just own that the objectivity is gone.”
To which Ralston replied—and at this point the gloves were totally off and the knuckles were bloody: “Since logic isn’t your strong point, let me help: 1. Anyone who lied about the 2020 election is disqualified. That’s not partisanship; it’s patriotism. 2. Again, I am not rooting for anyone. Never have. 3. My views are shaped by reporting, not partisanship. Objectivity is a myth.”
With the primary election nine months away and more than a year before the general, the fact that powerful blue-check politicos are already throwing uppercuts provides an early indicator of just how bloody this race is likely to become.
Although Ralston’s minions clearly favored the anti-Laxalt point of you — this is Twitter, after all, which sits slightly to the left of Pravda on the political spectrum— a fair observer could see where Hewitt has a point. Ralston should be taken at his word —he’s earned it—when he says he’s not “rooting for” either candidate. But when one candidate is “disqualified” and the other is not, the election begins to look a little bit like the ones staged in Russia after Putin has disqualified the Navalny slate.
Accusations of the Independent’s leftward tilt
Ever since Ralston launched the Independent, with its reliance on the generosity of like-minded donors for support, the publication has faced persistent accusations that its progressive bias is showing. In fact, even Ralston’s retweets from his own publication reliably favor a progressive point of view.
A couple days after this feud, venerable columnist John L Smith (who I’ve known off and on for decades, I should add) wrote a blistering opinion piece about Laxalt and the Parnas-Fruman donations, alleging that the “shady contribution promises to lead to more headaches for Laxalt.” Ralston’s retweet highlighted not just a classic Smith $5 word, but doubled down on the “Big Lie” disqualifier riff he’d been arguing with Hewitt:
“Laxalt’s perspicacity, such as it was, will likely be questioned at trial. Perhaps he’ll have a good answer, not that many come to mind. When you’re willing to carry Trump’s Big Lie about widespread voter fraud before the public, anything is possible.”
"Laxalt’s perspicacity, such as it was, will likely be questioned at trial. Perhaps he’ll have a good answer, not that many come to mind. When you’re willing to carry Trump’s Big Lie about widespread voter fraud before the public, anything is possible." https://t.co/CRDkGF5nI7
— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) September 26, 2021
And yesterday, with the Laxalt campaign releasing an internal poll claiming the Republican is leading the incumbent by two points, Ralston tweeted “Weak candidates losing winnable races is Laxalt’s story from 2018 and may be for ’22. Republicans here know he is a weak candidate.”
It just couldn’t be clearer that Ralston has made up his mind about this race and its likely Republican candidate.
It remains to be seen whether Ralston will adjust the coverage of his powerful publication to reflect his more traditionally objective roots, or continues what at least a few Nevadan insiders told the Globe is a leftward slide in keeping with the generally progressive leanings of the Independent’s funders.
Either way, a Senate race that has barely begun already looks like great theater. In true Twitter vernacular, *grab your popcorn.*
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