Mike Leach is not mad, but mostly he is not crazy. He’s your average Fox News viewer, mostly, but also famous and rich and the best-paid public employee in the state of Washington.
The Seattle Times’ Matt Calkins scored an interview with the Washington State football coach, in which Leach rambled through responses to fairly easy questions about the oafishly doctored video of Barack Obama that Leach posted and defended on Twitter Sunday night. Leach’s central defense is the same one he tried to pivot to when Twitter users began pointing out the video’s message was manipulated—that he shared this bit of obviously fake news because he was trying to start a conversation.
On the whole, the Q&A makes for a terribly disheartening read. It does not provide any fresh insights from Leach, nor does it ask the questions that should be asked of the highest paid state employee in Washington after such a debacle. It does give Leach plenty of space to ramble around in, though, and he certainly delivers on that.
Leach talks like someone who can see the fading, wavy outlines of the system he wants to criticize, but because he doesn’t understand where he lies within this political conversation, he mostly comes up with nothing but empty words and sentences. He’s woefully and painfully undereducated on the topics that are upsetting him, and seems confused about what kind of conversation he even wants to have. I’m not going to quote a ton from this piece, for your safety and mine, but this following selection of Leach saying nothing in 123 words serves as a decent summary:
You got the guys on the right, you don’t agree with us and you’re against us, and you say anything and no, it’s gotta be exactly like this. With guys on the left the same thing. Well, somewhere in the middle you have a group that says this is all screwed up. You’re not just framed within these little categories, and any thought and idea you might have—go ahead and offer it up and feel free to. But you know, discuss and exchange ideas and then you get the opportunity to learn something, maybe they learn something, and at least you open your mind to a variety of things. And I think both the left and right are somewhat against that.
A football coach failing to clumsily land a “both sides” blow in a discussion of America’s fragmented political landscape is not and should not be surprising. What is surprising is how little pushback he faces throughout the interview, specifically on the topic of how, exactly, he came across that specific doctored video. But Calkins is also weirdly deferential whenever Leach pops off and says a whole bunch of patently false weirdness.
Take the following exchange, which directly follows the above Leach selection:
Calkins: I do see sometimes where if you go outside a certain line of thinking you can be shunned or shamed online immediately, and that a lot of people bite their tongues because they’re afraid …
Leach: I agree with everything you’re saying. Keep rolling.
Calkins: Well, when you initially tweeted that Obama video, is that what you were trying to accomplish—to say, “Hey, let’s get some more free thought out there? Let’s have a discussion.” What was your intent behind that tweet?
1) If Mike Leach ever says, aloud, “I agree with everything you’re saying. Keep rolling,” you have either fucked up tremendously, or you have just said something generous about raccoons, in which case, carry on.
2) Leach responds to the question of intent by claiming he wanted to start a discourse with the video. His exact line is, “I just wanted something to quickly summarize [Obama’s] political approach.” Unfortunately, the issue at hand is not why Leach posted the video—he reiterated this point over and over in his tweets on Sunday. Instead, what Leach should be asked is, “How the hell did you think that video was real?” A follow up could be “Where did you even find this shit?”
Calkins does not broach this subject once in the posted sections of the Q&A, and Leach only ever deflects in an attempt to relieve some of the heat he received for posting fake news, bemoaning the “name-calling” directed at him by what he calls a “PR, politically-driven vehicle that continues to try to push the agenda.” Which agenda, again, he can’t quite articulate or explain.
Part of this refusal of self-reflection stems from the fact that Leach very clearly sees himself not as an extremist but as a sensible outsider. As such, he aligned himself with one of the two candidates in the 2016 election that sold themselves as such. Leach was and is an ardent Trump supporter, something noted in the Q&A and past reports. According to the Times, Leach spoke at a Trump campaign rally in Spokane and keeps a signed-and-framed Trump photo in his office—the inscription reads, “To Mike, keep up the good work.” By aligning himself with Trump on the campaign trail, it seems Leach took the idea that Trump was an anti-establishment candidate to heart, and adopted the same strange transference with the candidate that animates Trump’s people. Leach’s own ideology is hard to pin down because he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about; his four-hour Twitter rant and response in this Q&A mostly come down to denial and steering things back towards himself. It’s all honestly impossible to parse, because there’s mostly nothing there. But he does seem to believe it.
Leach belabors every point he makes, most notably about his desire to provide this Martian perspective for discussion purposes. He does this mostly because he’s a rube who bought what his friend was selling, and he seems to have no trouble squaring his status as a mark for an obvious con man with his vision of himself as a maverick, or a pirate, or whatever. Leach believes that he, a millionaire college football coach that supports Trump, is a Normal Person, an average citizen with moderate views. He transparently is not—his views are extreme to the extent that they’re comprehensible, and also he makes millions of dollars every year. That said, his behavior of posting a doctored video to social media is absolutely normal, if not unsurprising.
Show the fake Obama video to the average suburban or exurban oldster on Facebook and you will see them nod their heads. They may mention his birth certificate or his ardent socialism or his religion. All of this is demonstrably, obviously false, but it is an article of faith in much of the country. What Leach represents is just a rich, famous version of roughly half of America, a person who sees the political world through the same lens as millions of other Fox News viewers and Facebook victims. If there’s a point to talking to him about his views, it’s that.
There’s a solid Last Week Tonight segment on how drastic the differing media perspectives offered in coverage of the Mueller investigation can be, focusing on how Fox News derides any updates on the investigation; the same discrepancies exist across local news. If you get your news from dubious sources, sooner or later, you’re going to lose the capacity to understand what’s real and what’s not; you will be wrong constantly, and if you’re a rich and prominent citizen with 103,000 followers and a platform, this shit can both get you in hot water and distort the realities of those that believe you to be a trusted source of information.
Mike Leach is not unhinged or crazy, at least not when it comes to politics. He is just boring and misinformed and too sure of himself and extremely full of hot air. He is as prone to posting fake news as any other old white guy with unmonitored internet access. He is a mess, but he is extremely normal.