Thursday, October 25, 2007

Urban legends or right-wing smears?

Here's an article on a subject I've mentioned before: The New Right-Wing Smear Machine, by Christopher Hayes.

Too often, people categorize these emailed assaults on Democrats (e.g., the "Obama/madrassa" canard) as "urban legends." They are not. Urban legends make themselves via word of mouth. These emails are texts, and texts have authors. Deceptive as they are, these texts are (usually) done to a professional standard -- the writers know how to grab and to keep attention -- yet the work always goes unsigned.

Rovians at play? Of course.

If we go to one of the websites cited by Hayes,, we find similar texts circulating about George W. Bush. Most are pro-Republican treacle, but one of them relays the Bush-on-antidepressants meme which originally appeared in the less-than-reliable Capitol Hill Blue.

Fighting fire with fire. Hmmm. Are all weapons fair? Or do we concede to the GOP sole mastery of the mass-emailed lie?


Anonymous said...

Rovian is too generic. He couldn't possibly be personally responsible for this type of campaign.

I want to know who exactly has been been involved with this and who exactly has paid for it.

I also want to know how Free Republic became the outlet for so many of these smears.

I would start with Republican operatives who have specialized in "grassroots" campaigns. Don't be fooled if some of them happen to be women. I have my own suspicions about how one rises quickly to the top in the Bush White House.

AitchD said...

That Hayes link just reminded me that I no longer receive any email headlines or notices from The Nation like I did a few months ago every damn day. Any Nation subscribers also no longer getting emails?

(The Nation mag comes late to my residence, which means the postal workers read it, which is a good thing. Same with The New Yorker. I don't complain.)

Anyway, the next election won't be decided by voters who have any inkling about spurious emails or even know what a blog is. Mention the Internet or a blog and they shut down their cognition. You make it sound like everyone has a Mac. The Internet isn't just a time-consuming activity, it's another bodily function, and most people don't have the time for it.

In politics, the Internet can work as a fundraising sphere, and that's about all.

But your point is that the Internet with its mischief leaches into the body politic. So? All politics is local, and the only fish to catch are the undecideds and uncommitted Independents.

It's still worthwhile to condemn the vote-riggings of 2000 and 2004: Never Forget, Never Forgive! Tell it today, every day, because the American voters don't remember yesterday without being confused. But they like sports scores, records, and stats like that. In November 2008 remind everyone that Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, that John Kerry got more votes for president than anyone before in US history, but most honorably wouldn't contest the vote-rigging in Ohio and bring on a Constitutional crisis, which Nixon also refused to do in 1960. I know, that's an urban legend.

It's also worthwhile to make sure your TOS agreements aren't violated.

DNC monies could do wonders if it's contributed to pizza delivery people who can hand out campaign literature. How much money is there? They can promise -- and deliver on their promise -- free pizza for a month if Hillary (e.g.) wins! Pizza for cryin out loud! They'd vote for Hillary! "Panem et circenses" on every bumper. People read bumpers and will want to know what it means. They won't get the point, but they'll feel smart and vote for Hillary. And if FOX or anyone tries to explain the Latin, they'll turn on FOX or anyone else for making them feel stupid. People will not jettison their original neurological impressions without a severe trauma intervening.

Whatever. Electoral politics is about getting elected, not trying to defeat someone; the former you can manage, while the latter can fail and backfire, so you've wasted valuable and scarce resources.

I can't find out what the origin of "fighting fire with fire" is. Anyone know for sure? It sounds like an early method of creating a fire break, and it's still used by the forestry rangers to prevent forest fires. I'd be really surprised if it morphs into the revival of the Fairness Doctrine.

Urban legend: 20% of the American people believe(d) that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. My recollection is that it was determined that 20% of FOX News viewers believed that. Eventually, the "FOX news viewers" part of the factoid was elided. Guys like Bill Maher repeated the unfounded version, and now it's like the truth.

markg8 said...

I got a "scary" Blue Mountain card forward this am from a buddy of mine in FL who I'd turn to for homeowners insurance advice but not politics. He likes sending me these things because he knows he's jerking my chain.

The BM "card" was a cartoon video of a bat with it's back to you hanging from a tree flashing a young woman, an old couple and a woman exiting a bus "horrifying" them. The surprise joke at the end is the bat turns around and it's holding a Hillary for president poster. These things are sent out to convince you that your peer group all considers candidate X to be a dirtball.

Seeing as there was the usual chain of addresses in the email I laboriously excerpted the above Nation article for the attention span challenged and plugged in all the addys to the reply except my friend's.

I fight fire with water when I can.

Anonymous said...

to AitchD:

You erroneously say that 20% of Americans believing Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11 is an urban legend, thinking you remember that it was only that high of a percentage of FOX NEWS watchers.

Not so.

According to PR Watch's website, naming the poll and the approximate date of its publication, it was 33% of all Americans (+/- the margin of error of the polling, of course), as of 6 years after the event. As I recall, it was more in the range of 40% to 50% back when it mattered, in the runup to the war.


Saddam Did 9/11 -- One-Third of Americans Believe the Big Lie
Topics: democracy | Iraq | propaganda | terrorism
Source: New York Times, September 10, 2007

An important New York Times/CBS News survey finds that six years after the terror attacks of 9/11, "33 percent of all Americans, including 40 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats, say Saddam Hussein was personally involved."

Anonymous said...

Fighting fire with fire. Hmmm. Are all weapons fair?


Or do we concede to the GOP sole mastery of the mass-emailed lie?

False choice. The way to deal with mass e-mailed lies is to unpack them, as publically as possible, heaping scorn and derision on those who would seek to manipulate unsuspecting people with intentional falsehoods- particularly for political gain.

I've seen tons of this material, much of which comes in the form of "jokes" featuring the usual pantheon of right-wing/Republican heroes (Bush, Rumsfeld, Ollie North, Giuliani, Reagan, Cheney, George Patton, Winston Churchill, et. al.)triumphing over the usual villains (Ted Kennedy, Jane Fonda, Osama bin Laden, Nancy Pelosi, college professors, O. J. Simpson, Castro, pot smokers, Hitler, Bill Clinton, Joe Stalin, Hillary Clinton, the Liberal Media, Jesse Jackson, Neville Chamberlain, Barney Frank, journalists in general,

What passes for "content" aonsists of hyperbolic, misdirective cheap shots repeated so often that in terms of sheer cliche power, the triteness is dizzying...for anyone looking for actual humor, that is, rather than hungering for reinforcement of their political inclinations against the dire threat of Cognitive Dissonance (brought on by that battering tide comprised of actual factual reality.) In terms of format and formula, the Trite Wing mass emails reek of the "professional joke writer" crap that gets dished out for Morning DJs hawking bad taste as "comedy" on commercial radio stations these days from coast to coast. But it's the nature of the Late Era Decadent Republicanism of the Bush Era that conservative traditionalists crave reassurance, even when it's false, and comes in the form of stick-figure vignettes masquerading as political insight.

Consider the "joke" about a soldier in Iraq claiming to be more afraid of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton than IEDs and snipers, or anything else in the world- except for Obama and Clinton's boon companion, Osama bin Laden himself.

That is not a joke. That's someone stuffing words in a combat soldier's mouth, in order to work in a couple of cheap ad hominems for the purpose of reinforcing a partisan political conditioning script. There's nothing else there.

The phenomenon begs for unmasking, exposure, ridicule. Stopping with mere satire isn't enough: irony isn't a sufficient punchline. Point-by-point all of that agitprop disguised as "cute little jokes" that turns the truth inside out on topics like Guantanamo Bay, the war in Iraq, and the war on terror. Hang those toxic subtexts out on the line to dry awhile. Turn the tables by using facts and truth to mock the caricaturists and the formula liars themselves- rather than mimicking them by using lying as a tactic.

(I mean, how Republican-wannabe could you get?)

Tracing the source(s) of the prepared pieces fed into the Mighty Trite-Wing Wurlitzer is also a good idea. It might even have central nexus somewhere, with a professional paid staff, cranking it out by the caseload. But if you find them, skip the outrage and the moral dudgeon. These people are pathetic. What's more, they're desperate, and scared- otherwise, they wouldn't be in the business of constructing e-Potemkin Villages to condition the minds of their following into continued support.

Show up the liars, fantasists, hyperbolists, apologists for the unconscionable, and panderers to fear and ignorance for what they are. That's the key to solving that problem.

AitchD said...

anonymous: 3:01 PM:

I may be wrong, but your analysis doesn't persuade me. Instead, it suggests that factoids rapidly become gospel falsetoids once the half-semi-informed talk show jockeys wag their superior tongues. As soon as the Fox audience stat was let out of the tube, it got bolded, italicized, underlined, and all-capped. God only knows how it morphed into 'the American public'. One explanation I can't prove but will go to my grave believing is the bandwagon effect -- "Hey, I like that idea, I'll buy into it." It followed from Cheney's refusal to renounce his earliest claims, which FOX News approved by not challenging it like other news programs were doing. Scratch a heartlander's heart and you'll find a dark crimson love for Dick Cheney.

In 2003 and 2004 I couldn't get to the first comma in a conversation before one of them would interrupt me with "Why do you hate Bush?" but with an exclamation point instead of a question mark. Do you remember? That was the oral bumper sticker of the re-election campaign.

My point had to do with the reporting much earlier than 2007. It's irrelavant to that point what Americans think today. I wrote that someone and then nearly everyone had applied the poll results about Fox's audience (in 2002 or 2003) to "20% of Americans", which at the time wasn't the result of any poll that I was aware of then. I heard/saw the canard within the same week as the poll that was trying to point to the stupidity of Fox's audience. Of course, maybe only 17% or as many as 23% of Fox's polled audience are that stupid. It's actually closer to 100%, only slightly higher than for the viewers of the other mass-audience networks.

Not that it matters, but I've done more scholarship about TV's effects than I've eaten or slept during my life.

In 1978, I was doing some street video interviews. My assistant (a pretty, young, non-threatening woman) asked: "Do you think reading and writing are important?" Her female respondent said: "Sure. You have to be able to read menus 'n at (that's Pittsburghese for 'and that [sort of thing]'. The interviewer followed up: "Do you know what the word 'literacy' means?" Reply: "Aah, you got me on that one. It sounds like a disease."

Too bad the interviewer didn't assure her she was in no danger of catching it.

In the mid-1970s (according to serious, published research) 75% of the American public believed that they saw the assassination of JFK on TV. BEFORE ANY OF THEM HAD SEEN THE ZAPRUDER FILM! In fact, no one saw it on TV until they watched the film many years later.

That remarkable stat has been explained by the phenomenon known as 'certification'. Given TV's unprecedented authority, people are skeptical about information if they haven't seen it on TV; and they believe everything they see on TV (not as fact, but as truth since it conforms to visual and auditory 'reality'). If it isn't on TV, it isn't 'certified'; and conversely, if it's on TV it's 'certified' ("They wouldn't say it if it weren't true'). It's how TV content works. They show you Ivory soap, and lo! there's Ivory soap at the store. I'm pulling punches instead of scaring you with the hardcore research.

In the 1980s I tested the concept of 'certification' on a close friend. I asked him to think of and to picture in his mind a memorable win in golf. He himself had won several club championships. He said, "I don't know if I can pick one, but it's one of Nicklaus's". Really. It's too terrifying to worry about.

A long time ago Americans came to 'prefer' the TV version of everything over the actual. Tsk, and that's the way it is.