Don’t Think of an Elephant, Think of a Unicorn

Don’t Think of an Elephant, Think of a Unicorn

How the right-wing media manufactures phony scandals to distract, inflame

The right-wing media is offering folks a fantasy-land nostalgia tour of debunked, fake “scandals” to distract from the harsh reality of Chris Christie’s #Bridgegate.

On Monday, we talked about how voices in the right-wing media circuit –including the WSJ, Fox and Glenn Beck’s the Blaze — have been pulling phony discredited “scandals” out of their hats to distract from the very  reality-based mess New Jersey Governor Chris Christie finds himself in with the Bridgegate affair.

When the right-wing media rushes to rework reality with  sensationalized, agenda-driven storylines, it takes time for truth-seeking journalists to catch up with the facts.

Unfortunately, by that time the media has often moved on to the next shiny object leaving massive mis-information predominant in the public mind. Even when the truth comes out, it gets nowhere near the attention the initial front page reports received and is often buried back behind the horoscope.

The Christie scandal was not driven by a massive political message machine, rather it was uncovered by alert and persistent local reporters and the revelation of smoking gun internal e-mails of Christie staff members.

The trifecta of phony scandals being used as distraction right now (Fast & Furious, Benghazi, IRS) are all examples of how blanket repetition by the right-wing media machine and the complicit coverage given by more legitimate sources, push false narratives that take hold in the public mind and become “common (if false) knowledge” for millions of media consumers.

When talking about a phony scandal created by the right-wing media, I do not mean to suggest that there is not some issue involved, often tragic or dangerous, that requires attention and responsive action. The right-wing media disinformation strategy, however, makes proper analysis and responsive action to important issues next to impossible.

The right-wing media machine spins false narratives around complex issues and events that make it more difficult for the core issues to be addressed. They pursue this irresponsible strategy because they place a greater value on advancing their agenda than they do on truth and the common good.

The most effective way to spread a lie is by starting with a kernel of truth and spinning your web of deceit out from that kernel.

The right-wing media loves repeating the catchy phrase “Fast & Furious” over and over, but in reality, they were Fast & Loose with the truth.

On Monday’s show, we started a discussion about the phony scandal that arose from the federal Alcohol Firearms and Tobacco Federal law enforcement agency’s operation in Phoenix called “Fast & Furious” — so called for the suspects’ fondness for street racing. We ran out of time before fully covering the subject. That’s the thing about these fake scandals… they exploit the fact that a story takes some time and explanation if you want to get the full picture and that is used as an opportunity to paste their juicy false narrative over the more mundane facts of the matter. 

An important point here is the value of dedicated journalists to stick to a story and deliver fact-based reports as they work to uncover the truth.

That’s why we wanted to focus on this case. It’s ironically named because what was fast and furious  about it was the gush of lies that rushed out and were stuck on repeat until virtually everyone had an incorrect picture of the actual facts.

But jounalist Katherine Eban produced a report for Fortune magazine getting principal players on record for the first time. Her piece was 6 months in the making and it showed that what everyone thought they knew was wrong. One of the folks she interviewed was ATF Phoenix supervisor, Dave Voth. Now why in the world would no one have talked to him before? The supervisor of the Fast and Furious case itself. How would you expect to have a complete picture without getting his story?

Even the DOJ and the Obama administration gave up on trying to get the facts out because the prevailing belief became so strongly set in the media, they focused instead on countering the political nature of the attack. The first casualty of war, including political war, is the truth. 

The tragic event that set off the firestorm of attention on the case was the murder of border patrol agent Bryan Terry in a remote part of Arizona. Two recovered weapons’ were traced back to Fast and Furious suspect straw purchases from gun shops in Phoenix.

The right-wing media pushed multiple, increasingly conspiratorial narratives:

  • The ATF allowed gun walking, that is, allowed weapons to be straw purchased in Arizona and then to be transported to criminals in Mexico as part of an intentional strategy to “build a larger case.”
  • The ATF supplied and/or purchased the weapons themselves, and engineered their transfer to criminals across the border.
  • The ATF getting weapons into the hands of dangerous criminals in Mexico was a conspiracy to produce violence and mayhem to create a rationale for a big government gun grab in the U.S.

But what did Katherine Eban uncover in her intensive 6 mos investigation? Click here to listen and find out.

When you read Eban’s painstakingly researched account garnered from the testimony of five law enforcement officers involved in the case but previously unheard from, you see a story turned 180 degrees from the conspiracy notions repeated by media sources. A story is revealed of dedicated professionals trying to stop the flow of guns across the border, but who are stymied in their efforts time and again by prosecutors who consistently insist to them that toothless and gutted gun laws would make prosecution impossible and who call for degrees of evidence that are largely infeasible.

In one instance agents tracked a man receiving food stamps who dropped more than $300,000 for 476 weapons but the prosecutors refused to give go ahead for an arrest. Agents are, of course, tasked to work within existing law and can be sued if they go against  prosecutors’ assessment of legality and seize guns.

How did the story get so twisted??? 

Reporter Eban details how a far-right anti-ATF, fringe-gun-group, called the Sipsey Street Irregulars, picked up an item about the F&F case and the death of Agent Terry from a website run by a disgruntled ATF former employee. The SSI is run by a one-time militia member who supports armed revolt against the government. From the anti-ATF site, the SSI passed on allegations directly to Republican lawmakers who ran with them.

Then, John Dodson, a disgruntled Phoenix ATF employee with an axe to grind, was interviewed by CBS. The CBS interview contained cherry picked segments of e-mails ripped from their original context, to present a wildly distorted picture of what was going on in the Phoenix ATF office. A message from Voth to the staff was twisted to make it seem as if it referred to gun walking when it was really about a schism in office morale pertaining to working a wire tap. The full e-mail can be read in Eban’s report.

Recently, we’ve seen the same CBS called on to correct a story on green energy wherein the interviewee complained his words were presented in a cherry picked fashion, giving a twisted impression of what he actually said. And of course just weeks before that 60 Mins host, Lara Logan was suspended for presenting a completely bogus story on Benghazi which featured an interview with a totally fraudulent eye-witness who actually wasn’t an eye-witness at all. CBS has become, going back to F&F, an increasingly reliable amplifier of right-wing media hoax, misinformation and conspiracy.

And of course, joining with GOP politicians and CBS, the right-wing media bully chorus was loudly pushing the fraudulent “gun walking” Fast and Furious narrative.

The insanity here is that right-wing forces that have targeted the ATF with Fast and Furious conspiracy theories are the same voices that have insisted that there can be no restrictions whatsoever on gun purchases, including no restrictions on the very kinds of straw purchases that were the focus of the ATF operation in Phoenix.

So the right-wing voices that have successfully weakened gun laws which led to the prosecutorial barriers the ATF in Phoenix faced, then turned that very situation into an opportunity to run a smear campaign against the ATF for being legally hamstrung from stopping the guns from moving.

The heated scapegoating of the ATF also served as a way of shielding right-wing media voices from their culpability in the ensuing violence caused by lax gun buying laws they support.

Just days after the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy in Newtown, Rush Limbaugh repeated on his show in unhinged detail the full Fast and Furious hoax, insisting that it was an outright big government conspiracy to take your guns. This was a convenient diversion for his listeners and it fed into the sick strain of Newtown conspiracy theories that had begun to slither up from the feverish and fetid swamp of the right-wing blogosphere.

It’s high time to drain the swamps of baseless conspiracy and to take a stand against right-wing media mind pollution.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside…

Baby, It’s Cold Outside…

But not as cold as the brain freeze of global warming denialism.

The Incestuous Amplification Feedback Loop of the right-wing media is in full gear to cry “Hoax!” on Global Warming science because it’s very, very cold in the United States right now. Of course, they don’t need a particular reason to cry hoax, but they do become all the more shrill when they are trying to glom onto something they perceive as useful to their misinformation agenda.

The right-wing noise machine is ever ready to exploit a complex issue to advance their agenda, no matter how important it may be that the public have reliable information on that issue.

Limbaugh told his listeners that the term “polar vortex” is a sinister creation of “the media.” He was immediately debunked and called out by senior Accuweather meteorologist Bernie Rayno, who said the term has long been in use and who also said “now, any time anybody tries to have a debate, it turns into being politicized,” he said. “Whenever you politicize something, you contaminate it.”

Many other sources of right-wing media static like Drudge and Malkin have been crying the same denier line of nonsense and, of course, Senator Inhofe reliably amplifies this crazy talk [listen here] while sounding like an addled, partisan weatherman nattering on about every time it snowed on Al Gore in the last decade.

Here’s a fun pop quiz: How much of the Earth’s surface does the United States represent?

That would be 2%. How much time is the right-wing media devoting to the unusually warm temps in Scandinavia or the dangerous, ongoing heatwave afflicting Australia?

No, no, don’t look there! Look out your window, it’s snowing and your pipes froze last night. There must be no such thing as Global Warming! Or other countries either I guess.

Let’s say your bath tub represents 2% of your house and the tub is filled with ice. Meanwhile the rest of the house is on fire and the fire is spreading fast. Should you not call the fire department because the temp in the tub at that moment is freezing?

There’s a reason why it’s called GLOBAL warming and not your hometown warming.

But the propaganda of the right-wing media machine is all about getting people to narrow their vision, narrow their understanding and narrow their minds.

The Right-Wing Bully Machine

The Right-Wing Bully Machine

Everything is supposed to change on the day you graduate from high school, but some basic things never do. Social dynamics and cliques and insecurity and confusion and authority figures and power struggles continue. There are still nerds, geeks, and weak and strong… and there are still bullies.

And whether you’re 16 or 60, standing up to bullies ain’t exactly easy.

As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson reminds us: “the only effective way to deal with bullies is to confront them.”

In a July 2012 column, The Right-Wing Bully Machine, Robinson warns that “not all overheated political rhetoric is alike. Delusional right-wing crazy talk… is a special kind of poison that cannot be safely ignored.”

“Let me be clear,” he writes: “I’m saying that the extreme language we hear from the far right is qualitatively different from the extreme language we hear from the far left — and far more damaging to the ties that bind us as a nation. Tut-tutting that both sides should tone it down is meaningless. For all intents and purposes, one side is the problem.”

“It would be satisfying to withhold the attention they seek, but this is not an option. The only effective way to deal with bullies is to confront them.”

Read the full column here, and let us know what you think on our Facebook page.

75 Years Later: The War of the Worlds Martian Broadcast

75 Years Later: The War of the Worlds Martian Broadcast

Three quarters of a century removed from America’s most famous episode of mass hysteria, it’s tempting to classify the panic-in-the-streets response to the War of the Worlds broadcast as an exceptional event of a more naive time that could not happen now.

But were things really all that different back in 1938? Are we any better able to discern fact from fiction in TV and radio broadcasts?

Check out this must-read editorial from Dorothy Thompson, journalist at the New York Herald written in the aftermath of the broadcast, and tell us what you think. If you’re in Pittsburgh, don’t miss our Martians vs. Zombies Halloween Bash!

[Thanks to Mike Stone for transcribing the original editorial on his blog,].

New York Tribune, On the Record

By: Dorothy Thompson

November 2, 1938

All unwittingly Mr. Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the Air have made one of the most fascinating and important demonstrations of all time. They have proved that a few effective voices, accompanied by sound effects, can so convince masses of people of a totally unreasonable, completely fantastic proposition as to create nation-wide panic.

They have demonstrated more potently than any argument, demonstrated beyond question of a doubt, the appalling dangers and enormous effectiveness of popular and theatrical demagoguery.

They have cast a brilliant and cruel light upon the failure of popular education.

They have shown up the incredible stupidity, lack of nerve and ignorance of thousands.

They have proved how easy it is to start a mass delusion.

They have uncovered the primeval fears lying under the thinnest surface of the so-called civilized man.

They have shown that man, when the victim of his own gullibility, turns to the government to protect him against his own errors of judgment.

The newspapers are correct in playing up this story over every other news event in the world. It is the story of the century.

And far from blaming Mr. Orson Welles, he ought to be given a Congressional medal and a national prize for having made the most amazing and important contribution to the social sciences. For Mr. Orson Welles and his theater have made a greater contribution to an understanding of Hitlerism, Mussolinism, Stalinism, anti-Semitism and all other terrorisms of our times than all the words about them that have been written by reasonable men. They have made the reductio ad absurdum of mass manias. They have thrown more light on recent events in Europe leading to the Munich Pact than everything that has been said on the subject by all the journalists and commentators.

Hitler managed to scare all Europe to its knees a month ago, but he at least had an army and an air force to back up his shrieking words.

But Mr. Welles scared thousands into demoralization with nothing at all. 

Orson Welles during the 1938 War of the Worlds Broadcast

That historic hour on the air was an act of unconscious genius, performed by the very innocence of intelligence.

Nothing whatever about the dramatization of the “War of the Worlds” was in the least credible, no matter at what point the hearer might have tuned in. The entire verisimilitude was in the names of a few specific places. Monsters were depicted of a type that nobody has ever seen, equipped with “rays” entirely fantastic; they were described as “straddling the Pulaski Skyway” and throughout the broadcast they were referred to as Martians, men from another planet.

A twist of the dial would have established for anybody that the national catastrophe was not being noted on any other station. A second of logic would have dispelled any terror. A notice that the broadcast came from a non-existent agency would have awakened skepticism.

A reference to the radio program would have established that the “War of the Worlds” was announced in advance. The time element was obviously lunatic.

Listeners were told that “within two hours three million people have moved out of New York” – an obvious impossibility for the most disciplined army moving exactly as planned, and a double fallacy because only a few minutes before, the news of the arrival of the monster had been announced.

And of course it was not even a planned hoax. Nobody was more surprised at the result than Mr. Welles. The public was told at the beginning, at the end and during the course of the drama that it was a drama.

But eyewitnesses presented themselves; the report became second hand, third hand, fourth hand, and became more and more credible, so that nurses and doctors and National Guardsmen rushed to defense.

When the truth became known the reaction was also significant. The deceived were furious and of course demanded that the state protect them, demonstrating that they were incapable of relying on their own judgment.

Again there was a complete failure of logic. For if the deceived had thought about it they would realize that the greatest organizers of mass hysterias and the mass delusions today are states using the radio to excite terrors, incite hatreds, inflame masses, win mass support for policies, create idolatries, abolish reason and maintain themselves in power.

The immediate moral is apparent if the whole incident is viewed in reason: no political body must ever, under any circumstances, obtain a monopoly of radio.

The second moral is that our popular and universal education is failing to train reason and logic, even in the educated.

The third is that the popularization of science has led to gullibility and new superstitions, rather than to skepticism and the really scientific attitude of mind.

The fourth is that the power of mass suggestion is the most potent force today and that the political demagogue is more powerful than all the economic forces.

For, mind you, Mr. Welles was managing an obscure program, competing with one of the most popular entertainments on the air!

The conclusion is that radio must not be used to create mass prejudices and mass divisions and schisms, either by private individuals or by government or its agencies, or its officials, or its opponents.

If people can be frightened out of their wits by mythical men from Mars, they can be frightened into fanaticism by the fear of Reds, or convinced that America is in the hands of sixty families, or aroused to revenge against any minority, or terrorized into subservience to leadership because of any imaginable menace.

The technique of modern mass politics calling itself democracy is to create a fear – a fear of economic royalists, or of Reds, or of Jews, or of starvation, or of an outside enemy – and exploit that fear into obtaining subservience in return for protection. I wrote this column a short time ago that the new warfare was waged by propaganda, the outcome depending on which side could first frighten the other to death.

The British people were frightened into obedience to a policy a few weeks ago by a radio speech and by digging a few trenches in Hyde Park, and afterward led to hysterical jubilation over a catastrophic defeat for their democracy.

But Mr. Welles went all the politicians one better. He made the scare to end all scares, the menace to end menaces, the unreason to end unreason, the perfect demonstration that the danger is not from Mars but from the theatrical demagogue.

What’s Really Happening Inside the Heritage Foundation’s #DefundTour

HearYourselfThink Project was there to help call out the lies of Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation at their healthcare smear-and-fear event in Pittsburgh.

Calling Out Heritage Lies

Right-wing groups like Heritage are completely comfortable misleading, twisting facts and whipping up the darkest aspects of their base supporters. When their tactics repeatedly appear in stories as more or less equal but opposite from supporters of reform, their extreme and dangerous messages and practices become normalized. Case in point:

Listen here as a woman in line crazily waxes nostalgic about the lost age of assassins in America and calls for the death of President Obama. This was on the same day as the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.