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March 05, 2005

Why do conservative bloggers lie?

That's not a rhetorical question, I really want to know.  No, they don't all lie, and no, not all lefties tell the truth all the time, but we've really seen an epidemic of lies, and un- or half-truths on the right recently, and it's hard to fathom.  Bet you didn't know Jimmy Carter was a traitor till Powerline told you.  Bet you didn't know that David Corn supported Jeff Gannon till Instapundit cherry-picked sentences from Corn's column.  Bet you didn't know that the left hates gays till Andrew Sullivan told you

Some of you might have seen over at my place that I took Powerline to task for reprinting Ann Coulter's patently false allegation that the NYTimes op-ed page was outing the gay children of prominent conservatives.  I wrote to Powerline twice and presented them with evidence; I asked them to retract their statement; they didn't, nor did they write back. 

My question, quite simply, is: why?  Why would you intentionally advance a falsehood?  If I received an email like that, I'd correct the record, out of a sense of obligation more than anything else. 

Off the top of my head, here are a few ideas about why this could be; I'll discount the idea that conservative bloggers are born with a predisposition to lie:

1) Right-wing bloggers view blogging as purely partisan: every action has a strategic goal, and if the truth is involved, fine, if not, fine.  (Along the same lines, many of you probably read this piece about bullshit.)

2) They have really convinced themselves that everything they say is either literally true, or true in spirit (i.e., maybe the NYTimes didn't out gay children of conservatives, but libruls would sure like to do that). 

3) "the blogosphere [is] all about speed and therefore d[oes] not allow for fact-checking," according to a paraphrase of John Hinderaker. 

Surely some of you have other ideas.  I'd be interested to know. 

But it seems to me that if we can't answer this question, "why do conservative bloggers lie?," the group of people that increasingly identifies itself as the "reality-based community" is going to continue to have real problems.  There's all this (nonsensical) talk in the punditocracy about how the left has to "stand for something"; more sensibly, James Carville, among others, claims that we have to create a "narrative" of what we stand for.  But we also have to stand against something, and create a narrative of what we're against.  Personally, I'm strongly against apparently pathological liars having a lot of influence in our political system.  But despite the overwhelming evidence that the right-wing blogosphere has an at best uneasy relationship with the truth, we haven't managed to make this fact a commonplace in American political discourse.  And it needs to be. 

Nothing in this post is surprising; we all know that conservative bloggers lie all the time, and we're not even surprised when they do.  But it's precisely that fact, that lack of surprise, that's our problem.  If it's so obvious to us that they lie all the time that we hardly even think about it, how can we communicate this effectively to people who don't know it?  Doesn't this mean we need to ask this basic question, ask it publicly, and ask it often?

-- Michael

March 5, 2005 | Permalink

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» See what I mean about Powerline? from ISOU
From Blogenlust: As a graduate student in public affairs at the University of Minnesota, I recently heard an in-class presentation by John Hinderaker, who, with partner Scott Johnson, runs the Powerline blog. Powerline played a role in breaking the Rat... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 6, 2005 3:58:56 PM

Comments

They lie because it is effective. They understand power and how to get it. They read that a huge number of people believe that Saddam Hussein was responsible at least in part for the World Trade Center bombing, and they know what gullible fools their followers are. It is purely "ends justify means." They are without morals, cynical, and corrupt, and they know how to cower MSM. They have created an alternate reality with Faux News and the noise machine. As a result, they know that they will not be discovered as liars by those they rely on to keep them in power.

Posted by: Pokey | Mar 5, 2005 4:59:20 PM

i feel talkative today (see earlier post). must be the wild turkey.

i'll vote for #1. it's their strategy. winning is all that matters. truth, reason, common sense; these things are irrelevant. always attack! never admit to being wrong! never admit to a mistake!

pretty damn frustrating for those of us bound by reason.

Posted by: dm | Mar 5, 2005 5:08:09 PM

They lie because they're fucking evil, and are advancing a political philosophy that is as evil and vicious as all the other totalitarian political systems this poor planet has seen in the last 250 years.

Posted by: Lurch | Mar 5, 2005 6:41:03 PM

God, I don't know. I'd love to say that it's 1, but I think it's 2 more than anything.

I'd also like to point out that we all use too broad a brush when characterizing each other (pardon my over-generalization)- and that really plays into the idea of "false but true in spirit."

I'm pretty sure that there is a large number of republicans out there that are simply mistaken. After all, they say that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. I say that a liberal is a conservative who hasn't been trampled upon by a giant corporation or a hate-filled neo-Nazi.

The leaders of the republican party, on the other hand, must simply be evil. As for the righty bloggers... I'd say most of the high profile ones are tools of their masters and are, as such, evil, too.

The rank-and-file? I think a significant portion are just waiting to be turned.

Posted by: TJ | Mar 5, 2005 7:50:02 PM

Michael

"We all know that conservative bloggers lie all the time"

Do you have any sense of irony? Your accusation about lying is itself a lie.

Conservative bloggers may SOMTIMES lie and may SOMTIMES get there facts wrong but I think we can assume that so do liberal bloggers.

BTW To lie is to say an untruth NOT to say a fact or opinion that disagrees with someone else's.

Lurch

If what you say is true then you wouldn't be allowed to post comments like that (nor would this blog even exist).

Try reading some Primo Levi or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Or have a look at the present situation in North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, Cuba or Belorussia.

Posted by: Boethius | Mar 5, 2005 8:01:05 PM

boethius,

you should really get a new name. don't insult people who aren't around to defend themselves.

my statement "We all know that conservative bloggers lie all the time" is a rhetorical flourish; which is clear, given that in another place in the post i say "No, they don't all lie, and no, not all lefties tell the truth all the time." Nice cherry-picking.

Unfortunately, though, Powerline saying that the NYTimes op-ed page was outing gay children of conservatives is a lie. And if you think it's not, you should familiarize yourself with the situtation before you say anything else. While you're at it, see if you have any better luck getting them to retract their claim.

Posted by: michael | Mar 5, 2005 8:41:51 PM

They don't lie because they're incompetent, stupid, naive, or daft. (Although I'm sure they really are mean and jerkish.) They lie because that is how propaganda is produced.

Powerline is an explicitly partisan blog (all the writer's are active in the Republican Party, as are all of their friends and associates at the Claremont Institute) that has successfully disguised itself as the thoughts of just plain folks using common sense and traditional values. All of this has been acheived with the worshipful acclaim of the "Liberal Media", including Time Magazine, the Minneapolis StarTribune, every Minnesota TV station, and the Chorus of Synchophants that is the Right Blogosphere. The "liberal media" has carefully and deliberately ignored the fact that liberal blogs are much more popular, original, and innovative.

It's fascinating that bankers and lawyers with elite degrees and big incomes can position themselves are being the oppposers of "elitist" liberals. How is this possible without the cooperation of the corporate media? It isn't.

Posted by: blogesota | Mar 5, 2005 8:50:03 PM

Bush and his cronies care about money and power. Not the truth.

Some of his supporters have the same attitude.

If they cared about the truth, Bush's statement "There is no doubt" that Saddam has wmd would bother them. So would Bush's recent statements that Social Security is going is going bankrupt, when Social Security is projected to be solvent for the longest amount of time into the future in its history.

Posted by: Eric J | Mar 5, 2005 9:39:55 PM

Who is the "Michael" in the byline of this post?

If your going to post article by multiple people, you should tell us a little about them.

Posted by: Eric J | Mar 5, 2005 9:43:18 PM


Why does it matter why they lie? What matters is that they do, and how to respond.

Posted by: Tyrone Slothrop | Mar 5, 2005 10:05:55 PM

This touches on a subject that's been occupying my mind for some time...

Over the past several years, on various message boards, I've often noted the extent to which rightwing 'opinions' have little in common with what might loosely be termed as 'empirical/factual reality.' An early example that comes to mind was in realizing the weirdness behind Bush et al's arguments for tax cuts in early 2001: first he cited economic growth as justification for tax cuts; several weeks later, he cited the recession as justification for tax cuts. (Tax cuts are therefore prima facie good! the fact that Bush's tax cut plan was approved by both Republicans and Democrats speaks volumes) And let us not forget the administration's (and supporting voices') similarly shifty justifications regarding the invasion of Iraq.

And so I began to wonder...Are these people actively lying? Stupid and ignorant? A combination of both? This has been bugging me for some time, as I say; ultimately I threw up my hands and dismissed them, collectively, as 'wrong, probably deceitful.'

(I am aware that the same, or similar, instances-of-falsity on the left side of the aisle; it may be pure subjective bias on my part, but this sort of thing seems to happen far, far more often among the rightwing viewset).

I'll definitely pick up a copy of Frankfurt's 'On Bullshit.' Thanks for the linkage, and further thanks for invoking what I believe to be a topic worthy of greater examination.

Posted by: Ranty | Mar 5, 2005 10:41:51 PM

Bullshit definition became the same as adverb. To confuse, misdirect, misconstrue..standard con tactics starting with the idea of fear response. Didn't we all see hindbrain manipulation blogs of late ?

Posted by: opit | Mar 5, 2005 10:58:09 PM

But you're not talking about conservative bloggers. Your talking about wingnut bloggers. There is a difference. Look the bloggers you linked to are indeed liars. But that does not make all conservative bloggers liars.

Making universal statements based on the likes of Instahack, et. el., will continue to drive the wedge deeper. Do we really need to do the work of Acme, Inc? It's their intention to prevent true conservatives, moderates and progressives from working together. You know, that act called representative democracy.
So, how about we stay specific about who are the liars and who are not because in the end, we will have to work with the conservatives once Acme, Inc. gets booted from power.

Posted by: Rook | Mar 6, 2005 12:48:23 AM

For some reason that totally escaped me the like of Ann coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are allowed to spew libelous poison forth. An has said many times in her syndicated column -- and I ask how can such hate be syndicated- that all liberaks need to die. and, according to her,l a horrible death as we who believe in social services and possibly helping people who cant help themselves is treasonous. Dan Rather lost his job, as we all know by teling us that Bush "the warrior" was not at that stand when he should have been but he didn't ultimately have he proof to hold his position---although every thinking person has known long ago that Bush didn't even com eclose to fulfilling his "gratis" position. Why can Ann Coulter continue her reign of lies. Who needs to sue her, or Rush limbaugh, or Sean Hannity to bring them back to ordinay decency strandars?

Posted by: carolyn clark | Mar 6, 2005 12:50:37 AM

(Yarr, I have a blog of me own now! Cower in fear, mortals!)

I get a sense of Foxmulderitis: They Want To Believe. And those that are smart enough to know better want to make sure that their lesser ingenious readers still believe.

Posted by: D. | Mar 6, 2005 1:05:04 AM

I think they lie because they're playing a game. One with high stakes, but a game nonetheless.

They remind me of philosophy students who can vociferously argue either side of a debate, passionately, emotionally, inaccurately, just to win. The goal isn't to find the truth, it's to win the debate.

Or think of those jocks that give athletes a bad name. The ones that will purposely foul an opponent and believe it's fair game to do so - the real rule is not getting caught. The ones that protest fair calls, jump the opposing team, who laugh at the idea that it's all about how you play the game since all they care about is winning.

It's the same feeling when you shift your attention to the wingnuts on and off line. Braggarts who swagger, who think fair play is for suckers, who think winning is the only thing that really matters, that a foul here or a twisted fact there is fine as long as they don't get caught. It's a game and the prize is power. We're competing with them but we think that fair play matters, that if you foul it better not be intentional, that if you misinform you better get your facts straight, that winning through unfair play is a kind of loss.

Have you ever tried to talk to someone with an opposing view, failed to make any headway, and then discovered that they weren't trying to understand and find common ground but were just trying to win the argument? That's what it feels like.

I don't think they see it as lying. I think they see it as competing. It's like the folks who defend torture by asking "wouldn't you want them to do everything they could to prevent another terrorist attack?" Following the rules (of fair play, civil discourse, principled politics) don't matter if the stakes are high enough. They think they are.

Posted by: Kathy | Mar 6, 2005 7:22:31 AM

I think there are two elements in play: what motivates them to lie and why they keep getting away with it. Motivations likely vary, although I would wager that for most of them a key motivator is obtaining the approval of other right wingers. It's like when a little kid calls someone a Poopy Head and all his peers laugh and pat him on the back. You will suddenly have a kid who says Poopy Head about a hundred times a day.

More important is that there is no longer any kind of check on lying in the traditional media. The average Joe or Jane is not relying on blogs to form opinions, but they are watching television, listening to radio, and reading newspapers and magazines. These media are generally (although no longer accurately, particularly since the debut of Fox News) considered to have some kind of minimum standard for truth and accuracy and when people read an Ann Coulter column there is a tendency to think that it must meet that standard. If she was just out-and-out lying, they wouldn't print her in the paper, would they?? Calling these "opinion" pieces is too fine a distinction for most people.

So, when the traditional media not only doesn't bother to try to give people accurate information, but actively disseminates crap, there's no longer anywhere to go if you are really interested in getting at the facts. And people who will say anything to push an agenda (and get the approval of their fellow wingnuts) can let their baser instincts run loose without any fear of having them checked. Social disapproval and being held accountable to back up what you say are powerful checks on bad behavior.

An analogy that crosses party and ideology lines is speeding. Where I live (in the Bible Belt, no less) there's hardly any enforcement of traffic laws and I sometimes think I'm the only person on the road staying within 5 mph of the speed limit. I see serious wrecks with disturbing frequency, and we have one of the higher rates of traffic deaths in the country. Every once in a while, area law enforcement will decide they need to hand out a few tickets and you will suddenly see a lot more law-abiding citizens. This only lasts for a while, though, because the police soon stop policing traffic and the minute people realize they can get away with it, it's pedal to the metal time.

It's time for the remnants of respectable media to grow some cojones and start doing their job again. Lying in the blogosphere, on the other hand, is a lot like lying in the local bar. There's not a lot you can do except keep trying to be as reality-based as possible, and hope that the other bar patrons will eventually distinguish between drunken ranting and reasoned discourse.

Posted by: suzan | Mar 6, 2005 9:03:30 AM

They lie because they're radicalized now, having adopted the maxim of Malcolm X: "By any means necessary."

I think it's really that simple. They're drunk with greed and power at this point and who's to stop them from reinventing reality any way they want?

Posted by: chris | Mar 6, 2005 11:23:16 AM

In my efforts to "get around" all the BS (See Slate for def. of Bullshit) I started looking for issues of long term national directions and policies. I have come across a number of articles dealing with what is requiring the administrations past and present to bald face lie to the people. One of the best is--http://www.fpif.org/papers/03petropol/politics.html
It is very evident when one reads this that it would be impossible for the people of a democratic nation to go along with the policies of the government were the truth told. Obfuscation and pumping the fear of whatever into the masses via untruths is the only way that the military-Oil industry could achieve aims with the least amount of resistance. I VERY strongly recommend that everyone who reads this to pull up the link I have reffered above. It is a gut grabber when the full implications is realized. (Read China, the Caspian basin and the Stans, West Africa and the potential 234,000 bbl. per day via Yuschenko's installation.) Who will know what the truth is when lieing is the norm?

Posted by: Alvin Leighton | Mar 6, 2005 3:17:09 PM

Ezra,

They lie, because we don't challenge or call them on it!

If lurking, blog reading and/or comment posting are a relaxing distraction of no ideological passion, or an office hour time waster to vent at Kos or agree with Digby, then don't bitch about the ruinous effect of lying Conservatives!

The reason Gannongate hasn't died, is because the public had to go to the Internet for the salacious details. They found the Right bloggers calling us 'gay bashers', they found the truth and the credible questions from the Left bloggers - with the escort pics and m4m links as a bonus.

I've been contributing to WatchBlog.com for about a year, and have debated a lot of Conservatives since. I know their tricks, know when to ignore the idiots and know a Master of the Illogical Fallacy, when I see one. I've been banned from Hannity's message board, the Free Republic message board and La Shawn Barber's blog.

There are two leading, popular Conservative blogs I go to, where I take the abuse, call them on their hypocrisy, not let them set the rules, return the distortions and exaggerations - and call them on their lies! Many times I trip them, better when I shut them up.

But, if all the commenters posting on DU or Daily Kos were to take the fight to Freeper Central or Wizbang, I'd be just like Howard Dean taking our message to the Red States - personally.

Posted by: thatcoloredfella | Mar 7, 2005 2:09:17 AM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 5:43:53 AM

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