Fear Goes Viral: Deranged Demagogues and the Epidemic of Ebola Scare-Mongering

Fear Goes Viral: Deranged Demagogues and the Epidemic of Ebola Scare-Mongering

Eric Duncan has passed away in a Texas hospital from the Ebola virus he contracted in Liberia. Two health care workers have tested positive for the disease after an apparent break down of protective protocol for hospital staff attending to Mr. Duncan in his final days. The CDC warns that more health care workers who treated Mr. Duncan may  be at risk of having contracted Ebola.

Meanwhile, the 48 other people that Mr. Duncan had contact with, before it was belatedly realized that he was infected, have continued to be monitored but have exhibited no symptoms of the disease. A deputy sheriff who came down with a fever after spending time in Mr. Duncan’s apartment tested negative for Ebola.

The Ebola outbreak in Texas, while obviously very troubling, in no way poses a panic-worthy threat to the United States and the chances of contracting the disease remain very low. That’s not the impression you would get, however, from much of the media coverage in the country.

Ebola is not an airborne virus, but the media airwaves are being infected by an epidemic of fear, lies and sensationalized misinformation that is transmitted into the homes of millions of Americans.

A well informed and coolheaded citizenry is an essential line of defense against the spread of infectious disease. Panic, misinformation, groundless fear and reckless rumors are the enemy in this fight and must not be allowed to take root in the public imagination.

Distinctly culpable are the bottomlessly irresponsible demagogues of the right-wing-media-noise-machine, whose very reason for existing is to create a self-perpetuating media bubble of hyper-politicized misinformation.

Just as a virus uses the normal functioning of the organism to carry infection and corrupt the health of the body, media demagogues infect the free flow of credible information — the very life’s blood of a democracy — with rhetoric, conspiracy and propaganda designed to inflame the fear centers of its victims and undermine reasoned response.

Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham — along with Fox — have dropped the most bottomlessly irresponsible, intellectually unhinged and morally bankrupt ravings imaginable right into the middle of a public health emergency.

While doctors, scientists and officials are working to maintain public calm and to disseminate facts, they find themselves drowned out by a deluge of noise and nonsense.

Politicizing, distorting and demagoguing on issues where the public understanding requires calm, clarity and trustworthiness are nothing new for the microphone-wielding miscreants of the right-wing echo chamber, but they have now rampaged over a line that must not be crossed.  They cannot not be ignored, denied or tolerated in this regard.

It must be said, directly and firmly, that the monsters of the right-wing media scare machine, in that they traffic in fear and inflammatory misinformation, are the enemy in this fight.

Laura Ingraham, aside from her gigs as radio host and Fox commentator, is also on the payroll as a contributor with ABC News, thus adding a veneer of mainstream credibility to her campaign of malignant misinformation.

Major news organizations, which seek to maintain their credibility and good name, should not be providing journalistic cover for inflammatory and hyper-politicized misinformation which endangers the public health and safety.

You can sign our petition here calling on ABC News CEO, James Goldston, to remove Ingraham immediately.

It has long been obvious that Fox “News” is not news at all, but rather a misinformation machine that exists to promote a political agenda. There is a substantial and growing body of empirical evidence that confirms this truth.

Right-wing, Tea Party politicians who have made a career of amplifying Fox/talk radio misinformation should do the right thing and step up now to condemn the politicization of the Ebola outbreak by these outlets.

Keith Rothfus is the representative of PA Congressional District 12 where I live in Beaver County. Mr. Rothfus has been endorsed by the “Tea Party Express” which itself has been heavily promoted by Fox and right-wing talk radio. At the endorsement rally in Boyce park in 2012, the event MC, Sean Hannity radio fill-in and Fox panelist, Rose Tennent joked with the crowd about the Obama-birther conspiracy as Mr. Rothfus stood by casually, waiting to be introduced.

Many of us are not laughing. Manipulating peoples’ fears and prejudices for financial and political profit isn’t my idea of yuks. And playing around with a public health crisis is my idea of evil.

There comes a time when you have to say, “Enough.”

We should all contact our members of Congress to tell them to publicly call on Fox to stop their hyper-politicized, misinformation campaign on the Ebola outbreak.

It’s going to take a ground swell of public outrage and revulsion to change the course of extremist media in America.

A massive political propaganda operation sewing the seeds of mass panic cannot be allowed to go on disguising itself as a “news” source. But it will unless we push back.

Look up your representative and Senators here: http://www.contactingthecongress.org.

A Wealth of Misinformation: Commonwealth Spins Tangled Web in Beaver, PA

A Wealth of Misinformation: Commonwealth Spins Tangled Web in Beaver, PA

Last night, the right-wing state level policy pressure group Commonwealth Foundation held a forum on “Obamacare” in Rochester, PA hosted by the Beaver County Republican Committee. CF is part of State Policy Network (SPN), a web of so-called “think tanks” with ties to ALEC and the Koch Brothers that pushes a virulent anti-union, pro-corporate agenda in every state.

The press release described the event as “informational” and said that CF would “share facts” on the ACA. CF, however, is a core contributor to the smear campaign against health care reform and reliably churns out reams of distortion, falsehood and misinformation on the law, its purpose and effects.

We went to give a reality-based counterpoint to the spin and veiled propaganda that is the trademark of CF by providing unbiased sources of fact-based information on the ACA to attendees. Why? Because people shouldn’t be led astray on issues as critical as access to health care for themselves and their families.

A woman with the Republican Committee insisted that we not take video at this public event because of an agreement with the “participants,” I assume the Commonwealth Foundation. The CF speaker intro-ed by highlighting public confusion and negativity on “Obamacare.” Confusion and cynicism which they work to generate with their aforementioned, well-funded smear and fear apparatus.

A neat trick: shoot out the lights and bemoan the darkness. 

What Obamacare “alternatives” did CF offer? Medibid, described as E-bay, only for health care, hastily set-up websites sounding a bit like “Prescription rip-off.com,” medical tourism, health care sharing ministries (as the CF described, a system where everyone pays in a set amount each month and then, if their child breaks their arm, it’ll be paid for — sounds exactly like, you know, OBAMACARE!).

What sources of information on health care did CF recommend? John Goodman’s blog. No, not that John Goodman. We were disappointed too. This John Goodman is a Tea Party supporter who promotes “free-market” health care “solutions” like health savings accounts. The Apothecary Blog on Forbes.com, which is clearinghouse of misleading and selective information aimed squarely at attacking the Affordable Care Act and its many provisions, and the Galen Institute which does likewise with ties to the health insurance industry. 

So, there we were, getting a first hand look at what its like to be absorbed in the right-wing media misinformation loop. 

So what do you? Jump on your chair shouting: “hey, this is BS! You’re being lied to!” Run out of the room screaming? Play along like everything’s okie-dokie?

What message might reach that audience — partisans, active in the local GOP, eagerly eating up red meat misinformation from the Commonwealth Foundation? We tried this:

Look, you can feel however you want about politics and the President, but when you’re talking about making important health care decisions, you need to have credible, unbiased sources of information [like the Kaiser Family Foundation, www.kff.org or Consumer Reports, www.healthlawhelper.org]. You won’t get those from the Commonwealth Foundation because they HATE Obamacare (which the CF speaker quickly confirmed).

To our pleased surprise no one in the audience jeered or called us commies, in fact some were writing down the sources we offered.

As the program let out (more than 30 minutes before it’s scheduled end time — with an opposing, real world presence in the room, event organizers seemed eager to clear out), a couple of friendly-looking older ladies stopped us to talk.

They wanted to hear more about where they could turn to find information on the health care law, because, as it turned out, one of them needs to sign up.

We talked about how to comparison shop on Healthcare.gov, how the premium credits work and the important enrollment deadlines to keep in mind.

The conversation took a twist when we were tamping down scary misinformation they had gotten from a viral e-mail about “Obamacare” allegedly causing folks to lose their homes.

One of the ladies talked about how she couldn’t get good information anymore because “conservatives” were being removed from the radio for being “too conservative.”

I said that last I checked, the airwaves were blanketed with voices from the right and that there certainly weren’t many coming from other perspectives.

When I suggested that such sources should not be trusted as news because they were really entertainment, she was visibly taken aback.

“Is it?… Is it entertainment?”

She was willing to say that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck had gone too far to sensationalism but was deeply affected by not being able to hear her favorite right-wing talker, Rusty Humphries.

“I hope he’s alive,” she worried. “He had Senators and Congressman on his show to talk,” implying that alone made his and their message bi-partisan and the information they conveyed accurate and useful.

The problem, of course, is that Tea Party politicians are reading from the same delusional talking points as right-wing pundits and corporate-funded front groups.

But for a lot of people, hearing words from official-looking and authorative-sounding voices constitutes “news” and therefore, credible information they act on in the real world (ex: not signing up for health care when you need it because all you’ve heard are scary lies). 

What was even more revealing, though, was the deep, emotional connection this woman had to the right-wing talkers she’d so religiously turned to — not just for information, but for company, companionship. They weren’t just voices coming from the radio, they were part of her inner circle — and she part of their’s. That meant something to her, not on a political level, but on an emotional one.

These media figures have the power to generate an emotional allegiance in listeners that pulls them away from family and friends and neighbors who aren’t part of that world, especially in our increasingly fractured and isolated culture.

Here was a nice lady looking for real answers and a real connection; feeling adrift not knowing where to turn or how to replace what she felt she was losing with her favorite right-wing talker leaving the air.

We left with a greater realization that the work that needs to be done lies not just in debunking virulent misinformation but in rebuilding the community, civic and interpersonal connections the breakdown of which have left a void filled by the false community of toxic and manipulative media influences.

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.

Dad Always Said,”Tell the Truth, Even If It Hurts”

Dad Always Said,”Tell the Truth, Even If It Hurts”

Hi. My name is Charlene. My father, born in 1922, lived through the Great Depression, was a member of the CCC’s and served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He became a Democrat when he realized it was FDR and the Democrats who made sure people had enough to eat. He never forced his political views on anyone. He told me I could be whatever I wanted. He said, “Think about it, make a wise choice and vote.” He said, “If you don’t vote, you cannot express an opinion because it won’t matter anyway.”

Like him, I have not forced my opinions on anyone.

I’ve tried to live my beliefs. I am surrounded by the noise. I can not be quietly who I am. I can’t enjoy a dinner with family and friends without being bullied with right-wing talking points.

They back you into a corner until you’re screaming inside, “No!  I don’t agree with you.”

My father passed away a few weeks ago and my brother and his wife, my cousin whom I adore and his wife (one of my best friends) and I were having dinner in a restaurant and it was like Fox News was sitting at our table.

Normally, when I am in this situation, I try to change the subject because I have learned that old lesson that you never discuss politics or religion. We can no longer do this. Our world has changed. It is spiraling out of control in a downward direction.

That night I let a few comments go. They say them so matter-of-factly; like everyone thinks the way they do. They act like robots spewing out sentences whether they make sense or not.

When I tried to speak the truth that night, the two women just sat there like statues and the two men together ganged up on me; they got loud, red in the face, and double-teamed me with even more right-wing talking points.

They have always done this but they are much worse about it now.

They won’t talk about the tragedy in Newtown, CT because they can’t. There is no legitimate argument for what happened. All they can focus on is how our President “wants to take their guns away.” I tried to tell them that is not his goal and I heard the “slippery slope” story. Then, the Second Amendment came up and I said it had nothing to do with the subject or assault weapons and I got told I was wrong.

According to them, it has everything to do with it. They kept saying they had a right to own guns. Oh, by the way, my cousin works in a gun shop in Mercer County (the place where it was said that they “cling to their guns and religion”). He was bragging about how they sold more guns in the month of December, since the killing of those little children than they have all year.

I never said we didn’t have a right to own a gun. I sold my gun. I had a .22 that I used for target practice and for killing groundhogs that would not stay out of our garden.

I grew up with a father who owned guns. He kept them in a gun cabinet in the back bedroom. It was locked and we knew not to go near it. Dad was a lifelong member of the NRA. He was proud to be a member because back then the NRA was all about saving the environment and teaching gun safety.

He was not a gun collector. He was a hunter; a sportsman. His guns were never loaded and they were not there “for protection” as I hear so many say. He never had an assault weapon in his hands. He raised five children, three girls and two boys. He taught us all how to shoot and hunt safely. He actually taught gun safety courses for the NRA.

I don’t understand this “for protection” argument. Don’t we live in a civilized society? Aren’t we a nation of laws? Why do they act like we are living in the Wild West? According to their argument, we have no laws. Every citizen is the judge, jury and executioner.

One day, when Dad was 88 years old, I was visiting when the NRA’s magazine came in the mail. He had become blind so I asked if he wanted me to read it to him. He said “No, that’s junk mail.” He told me that the NRA is no longer what it once was; that he was ashamed to say he was a lifelong member. He said they did a “flip-flop” on their beliefs, and have become nothing more than a mouthpiece for the right-wing agenda. He said he wants nothing more to do with them.

I was thinking, what happened to “love your neighbor, don’t lie, don’t kill, etc., etc.?” Oh, that’s right, those are some of the Ten Commandments; they’re in the Bible the right-wing holds so high. What a perfect world it would be if we just obeyed one of the most basic parts of God’s holy word.

Recently, I have turned off the noise, sat quietly and heard myself think. I invite you to do the same. I’m sure there are others out there having the same experiences. We can no longer remain silent.

Think about the famous Mark Twain quote:

“A lie can travel half-way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

It’s time the truth got moving.