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,” 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, 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, or Consumer Reports,]. 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, 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.