How Bullshit Magically Turns Into Fact

by Karoli on November 25, 2011 · 465 comments

I used to write these stories debunking the right wing only, and usually in the context of Fox News. But lately, it seems as though the entire angry political blogosphere, whether right, left or libertarian, seems to need to magically transform bullshit into fact. I’m going to give you two examples of how this works so you can actually figure out for yourself why it’s important to keep your critical thinking cap on.

Shriek loudly! The DHS has infiltrated OWS on behalf of the 1%!!!!

Naomi Wolf wrote a nonsensical piece today that’s being spammed all over Twitter. It asserts that there is a deliberate plot afoot via collusion by the United States Congress, the Department of Homeland Security and our oligarchical overlords to undermine the very populist, leaderless Occupy Wall Street movement. One of her key pieces of evidence is an unsupported and unverified report that 18 mayors coordinated their crackdowns with the Department of Homeland Security. There’s only one problem with that: It’s nothing more than innuendo. Here, let me show you.

Here are the two links she provides as evidence: One to Wonkette; the other to Washingtonsblog.com. Both articles point back to this absurd article on the Examiner.com site (a very, very right-wing Phil Anschutz, write-out-of-your-butt-with-no-evidence kind of site). Washingtonsblog goes one step further, updating with this:

(And for those who are understandably doubtful about Examiner.com as a news source,here’s an AP story from a couple hours ago that verifies everything except the specific mention of DHS coordination.)

Got that? The headlines on both of these stories (Wonkette and WashingtonsBlog) were splayed across the sites in very large heading fonts: “Homeland Security Coordinated….” and yet the AP confirms everything BUT DHS coordination. Still, that didn’t stop Wolf from ignoring the AP story entirely and writing a piece for the Guardian that included links to bolster her argument that clearly don’t.

Why? I reiterate. No one has a source, no one has any evidence, and the originating story which Michael Moore and now Naomi Wolf breathlessly spread quotes an anonymous source with the promise of still more to come in the future. Well, it’s the future. It’s two weeks later and crickets from Mr. Ellis. Mission accomplished, though. Ask people who are paying attention to the OWS movement and they’ll swear up and down that yes, it was coordinated by DHS because MICHAEL MOORE and now NAOMI WOLF say so.

Truth: We don’t know. It isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility for mayors to consult with DHS. After all, that’s what they’re there for. To help local and state governments deal with threats. At best, one can conclude that maybe they did, and maybe they didn’t coordinate.

But again, it doesn’t matter if you can spread it on the Internet and get Keith Olbermann to pick it up and give Michael Moore a mic to spread that nonsense further (see video).

Milt Shook did a fantastic job showing us that the originating Examiner.com writer is not a credible source, too. Read it.

Undeterred, Wolf actually says this like it’s something readers have reason to believe:

In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

There you have it. Bullshit, spread worldwide, with the full cooperation of so-called journalists. It’ll work, too, because she has enough name recognition that people won’t question her claims. Which leads me to example number two.

President Obama personally killed the public option

This one is big. It started on the big-name lefty blogs like FireDogLake, and Jane Hamsher was instrumental throughout the health care debate at spreading it around. The only problem is that it’s untrue. Even those who acknowledge that it’s untrue dig in deep, saying that if he’d just used his bully pulpit, just simply taken it on the road with the Public Option Gospel Tour, we’d have a public option today. Except, well, have a look at the jobs bill. Even with people in the streets, parks, tents and on bridges, Congress does nothing but block it. Nothing.

Still, the myth persists. This article from last week by Jonathan Bernstein on The Plum Line got no attention, but it should have.

Bernstein’s post was inspired by yet another disappointed lefty using it as evidence that we have somehow been betrayed and left behind by our Democratic President. (cue weeping and gnashing of teeth). Drew Westen wrote this:

…as pundits endlessly debated the popular “public option” in health care reform, that the president had cut a deal with health care industry executives to block it the year before.

He links to a Talking Points Memo story asserting that Jim Messina killed the public option in exchange for concessions by hospitals. The TPM story links to “corroboration” by a for-profit hospital lobbyist and David Kirkpatrick, a New York Times reporter.

Here’s the problem: The reporter is quoting the same lobbyist TPM used for their story. Yet again, all of it points back to one source and that source happens to be someone with a deep vested interest in a) stirring dissent just before a vote on the health care bill; b) eroding Obama’s credibility with his own party and constituents just before a vote on the health care bill; and c) it stretches the existence of a deal to one with a secret public option death clause.

Here’s what Kirkpatrick confirmed: There was a deal on costs with hospitals. This was widely reported when it was made. In fact, the President had a press and photo opportunity at the time the deal was made. Here are a few links to articles ahead of the actual deal, reported by various sources:

Politico: Hospitals nearing a deal with White House
USAToday: Biden announces White House deal with hospitals
New York Times: White House and Hospitals Are Reported to Be Near Deal

Those were in July, 2009, long before the public option debate became a full-scale war. Remember, the House passed a bill with the public option included later in 2009. Here’s an analysis in the New York Times of what hospitals got and gave. In a nutshell: Hospitals would receive about $171 billion in extra reimbursements under Medicare changes in the ACA while giving up $155 billion in cost cuts, with most of the cuts coming into play on a delayed basis. There were some deals on emergency care, provided the numbers of uninsured came down.

Read this: There was no mention, not even a whisper, of any “dealmaking” over the public option, but that didn’t stop the New York Times from quoting the very same lobbyist with no independent verification in August, 2009.

That didn’t stop the Hamshers and Uygurs of the world from jumping on the “public option killed in secret deal train”, but not until about eight months later. Watch Cenk Uygur tell his audience all about how the public option was killed in a secret deal:

He repeats exactly the same thing everyone else repeated, except no one bothered to verify facts. No one.

That, my friends, is how bullshit magically transforms into fact on the left, with magical unsourced, unverified, but narrative-friendly assertions.

Why do facts matter?

Great question. Why do they? Clearly we can have top-name journalists out there on top-name newspaper sites like the New York Times and the Guardian spewing whatever nonsense they think fits their narrative, with no consequence. A large segment of the left will view their claims as further evidence they shouldn’t bother supporting a President who is one of the most progressive Presidents in modern history while the right wing will cluck and concern troll about how evil the left is. A fact-free environment gives everyone the right to turn the narrative into one they want in order to persuade a larger segment of the population they’re right.

Here’s the problem. The right wing has this mastered and they have a 24-hour news network to help them spread the word. They’ve gamed social media and aren’t shy about buying sponsored links on every left-wing page they can. When the Naomi Wolfs, Michael Moores, and others hand them something they can use on their influential but fact-free networks, they run with it.

Our side is less organized, and generally less in step with what the average low information voter might respond to. So when the LEFT begins to spread these lies across their sphere of influence, it peels off and suppresses enthusiasm, one small group at a time. Their goal is purity. They don’t live in practical terms. If you don’t believe me, please go review Ralph Nader’s role in handing the election in 2000 over to George W. Bush. Between Nader and the United States Supreme Court, one has to wonder which masters they serve, but if you’ve read this far, know this: They are not serving masters who want anything good for you, or anyone else.

Yes. Facts matter. They matter, and it matters that so-called reputable publications exist as fact-free entities when the narrative suits. Who benefits? The same people Naomi Wolf and Michael Moore call the 1%. Who are they working for again?

Update re: alleged DHS coordination In Portland, Feds were involved because occupiers were on federal land. But pay attention:

There is another line of thinking out there that runs directly counter to the federal-coordination theory: Ruiz wouldn’t comment on this, but one well-placed city source said, in fact, that the feds were mostly inclined to leave Schrunk Plaza open. It was city officials who cajoled them into getting on board—lest they watch most of Occupy’s camp merely move several hundred feet south onto federal land. Which would have been awkward for the city. But also interesting.

Should you accept as fact the idea that the feds were reluctant and the city pushed them along? NO. Why? Because it’s attributed to an anonymous source with nothing to back it up, which makes this theory as worthy as the DHS coordination theory, or just speculation with no facts behind it.

Update 2: AngryBlackLady has a post at her site that reminds me there were three other posts strongly debunking the whole #OWS coordination “theory”. Check them out here and here. Finally, Joshua Holland, senior Alternet editor, wrote a terrific post a couple of weeks ago about why DHS probably didn’t coordinate with cities.

Strange how those counterpoints went ignored by Ms. Wolf.

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