Liberally Speaking (8/6/09)

Coming clean on spreading misinformation

Aug. 6, 2009

By Steve Mount

Friends and neighbors, I have decided to come clean. There is some personal risk — I could lose my membership in the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy — but I find I cannot keep our secrets from you any longer.

The truth is that I have been working with VLWC for some time, doing my small part to coordinate and orchestrate some events that would be unbelievable in any novel.

To wit: At our behest, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert recently signed on as co-sponsor to the so-called “birther bill,” which would require future presidential candidates to provide irrefutable proof of their eligibility to become president, such as an official, state-issued birth certificate. The Republican’s action brought renewed attention to the bill.

What does Gohmert have to do with the VLWC? While Gohmert purports to be a Republican, in truth, Gohmert has been working for us since his election in 2004. The role of our operatives is to spread misinformation that sounds scary but is easily disproven. The VLWC then sits back to watch the fireworks that ensue.

The VLWC wasn’t sure we’d be able to get any traction from the Obama birth certificate controversy. We’d tried to get that ball rolling before the election, but then an Obama staffer, who had not been briefed about the VLWC’s tactics, had the candidate’s actual Hawaii-issued birth certificate released to the press. It is now easily viewable on the Web.

After the truth settled in, however, we decided to resurrect the rumor. Soon, we were delighted to see Republican members of Congress blindsided by birthers at town hall meetings, demanding that “Obama release his official birth certificate.”

The VLWC also assigned Gohmert the task of helping spread the rumor that a current draft of the health care reform bill encourages and actually requires our elderly Medicare population to prepare themselves for euthanasia. As with the birther rumor, we have also assigned other undercover operatives, including Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina.

As is typical with our operations, you can quickly see the results of our tinkering on easily-duped Web sites like the Drudge Report and World Net Daily. Within a few days, and sometimes within a few hours, the snowball has begun to roll as we pick up the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin and Sean Hannity. From there, the path to Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard and the Washington Post is a short one. With the right critical mass, soon the mainstream press is forced to cover the story, and the debunking process begins.

It is here that the rubber really hits the road. Neutral Web sites like FactCheck.org and Snopes.com weigh in and suddenly the big story is not the information we planted but the fact that the information is false. As time wears on, and the story continues to propagate, those who keep bringing it up move from the mainstream column to the wing-nut column.

Sometimes there are bonus offshoots of craziness; the health care debate has a classic example. You may have recently seen a television advertisement produced by the Family Research Council that features a senior couple lamenting the fact that the new proposal will mean that while their health care wanes, government-financed abortions will be on the uptick. We didn’t even think to plant the abortion canard — they made that one up all on their own.

The final stage is satire. When David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, the Colbert Report or the Daily Show spoof the story, the VLWC lets out a collective yelp of pleasure, in celebration of a job well done.

I know, dear reader, that I have not fooled you. There is, of course, no VLWC to help make the wing-nuts of the conservative movement look bad. Unfortunately, they do this all on their own.

My sincere hope is that if you listen to the right-wing media, you listen with a critical ear, and verify the “facts” that you hear for yourself. The Internet is a double-edged sword here: While it allows misinformation to spread faster and further than ever before, it also allows facts to be checked faster and by more authoritative experts than ever before.

To be fair, I fully acknowledge that the left wing is not immune from the spreading of misinformation. On balance, however, it seems that when there is misinformation to be spread, it starts much further up the right-wing totem pole, lending it gravitas that makes it particularly dangerous.

 

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at steve@saltyrain.com or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.