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Lies, Damned Lies, And Politics

Last week, when I was visiting that Tufts class, one of the accomplishments of the blogosphere I touted was our (collective here; I take no individual credit) busting of various fraudulent stories the mainstream media has pushed. I talked about AP photographer Bilal Hussein, the AP's fabricated source "Jamil Hussein," Adnan Hajj and numerous other Reuters photographers, and whatnot. When I mentioned how "Jamil Hussein" kept citing atrocities in and around Baghdad that no one else had heard of and could not verify, Charley from Blue Mass Group asked me a rather pointed question: "are you saying that atrocities aren't happening over there?"

I answered so quickly that I didn't even realize what I'd said: "if there are so many, why do people have to make them up?"

That off-the-cuff response has been rattling around in the back of my mind, collecting debris and detritus, until it snowballed into a full-blown thesis:

When did "fake but accurate" become an accepted standard? Especially in politics?

I'm going to cite mainly examples from the left side of things, because that's my inherent bias and where I tend to focus my attention, but by no means do I say that it is the exclusive property of them.

The above examples are excellent, but hardly conclusive. Here are a few more.

First up, of course, is the George W. Bush/Texas Air National Guard memos. A lot of people say that Bush did not fulfill his obligations over 30 years ago, and I will grant that as a possibility. But as the old saying goes, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and that is just not present. The memos that CBS tried to foist off as proof might not have been conclusively proven to be fakes, but far, far too many valid questions have been raised about their origins and authenticity that they can not be taken at face value. And CBS' position -- "they're legit until you prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're bogus" -- is an attempt to shift the burden on to the wrong side. CBS came up with the memos, it's their responsibility to prove that they are legit.

You want another? Hillary Clinton saying that she landed in Tuzla "under sniper fire." An extraordinary claim, and an event like that -- a first lady's life endangered so -- would have been huge news at the time. Instead, it was news to those who accompanied her, who greeted her, and who arranged for her safety on that trip.

Here's another: the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth. Those men's claims against John Kerry have never been successfully refuted. Indeed, on at least one key point -- Kerry's "1968 Christmas in Cambodia, listening to President Nixon" -- they have been proven correct. Yet "swift-boating" has become a catchphrase for "dirty politics" and "lies" among so many (despite the stalwart efforts of some to define it as "telling awkward truths about deceptive politicians"), and almost every mention of their efforts includes a mention of them as "discredited."

Here's a fun one. Bill Clinton, in explaining his lifetime devotion to civil rights, talked about how horrified he was as a child when he heard that black churches in Arkansas were being burned by racists to keep the black people oppressed. Oddly enough, when someone decided to firm up the details, they couldn't find records of a single black church destroyed by arson (or any other malicious attack) in Arkansas.

OK, here's one that's painful to acknowledge, because it's just so damned fun: Al Gore inventing the internet. I think I've even used it myself once or twice as a laugh-line, and it really isn't fair. Luckily for all of us, though, Gore himself has used it as a laugh-line himself a few times.

The thing that annoys me most about these fabrications is that they are often so damned unnecessary. No one denies that horrific things happen in Iraq. No one denies that Israel's conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon was, occasionally, brutal. George W. Bush himself said that John Kerry's military record was more honorable than his own. (Setting aside questions of what Kerry did -- and may have done -- after he left Viet Nam.) Hillary Clinton did quite a few notable things while First Lady. Many of the Swift Boat Veterans' allegations against Kerry could be easily refuted if he did what he promised to do four years ago and release his military records (which would also clear up those pesky questions of when he was officially discharged, under what circumstances, and why his "official" discharge is dated long after his obligations had expired.) There were plenty of church burnings, bombings, and other atrocities in the South before and during the Civil Rights struggle, so Bill Clinton didn't have to fabricate tales of it happening in his home state. Gore has done a great many things that are eminently worthy of mockery and derision, and his role in pushing the evolution of the modern internet (as a member of Congress) is certainly laudable.

I think it is the duty of each and every one of us to take a stand on simple truth over expediency. As a first step, I'm going to pledge that I will rebut any of my fellow authors here who go for the cheap gag and crack wise about Al Gore inventing the internet.

In one of Tom Clancy's novels (I think it was "Debt Of Honor," a politician has to explain to a foreigner just how the United States works on occasion. There are times, he says, that the American people get an idea into their head, and push so hard for it that the politicians really have no choice but to ride the tiger -- or get devoured. Any politician caught taking the other side can expect to be ground up and tossed aside by the sheer power of the American people.

That's my fantasy here. I'd dearly love it if a significant number of Americans all agreed that certain types of bullshit simply will not be tolerated, and -- regardless of ideology -- confront and denounce those who keep pushing these lies.

Ain't gonna happen, though. Not any time soon. Far too many people have far too much invested in their chosen fables.

I'll even make a prediction here: within two hours of publication, at least two of the regular trolls here will cite several "lies" by George W. Bush, and call me a hypocrite for not including them. Others (possibly me) will argue that those remarks are of a different sort, not self-aggrandizing, readily-disproven falsehoods that were known to be false at the time of utterance, unlike the very specific examples I cited above. And the whole discussion will degenerate even further from there.


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Comments (39)

Fake but accurate will rema... (Below threshold)

Fake but accurate will remain a favorite as long as it fits the current agenda of whatever group uses it. Sterling example is the msm's reporting on the iraq war.

The truth is always the bes... (Below threshold)

The truth is always the best way to go. No matter the party, that philosophy is very hard to find. ww

The memos that CBS... (Below threshold)
The memos that CBS tried to foist off as proof might not have been conclusively proven to be fakes, but far, far too many valid questions have been raised about their origins and authenticity that they can not be taken at face value.

You give too much credit to the argument that they were real. They are proven faked to beyond a reasonable doubt. The only person who believes those memos were legitimate was Mary Mapes, and even her recent pathetic book shades that.

Three words:"Agend... (Below threshold)

Three words:

"Agenda Trumps Truth"

"When did "fake but accu... (Below threshold)

"When did "fake but accurate" become an accepted standard? Especially in politics?"

Easy. With the founding of Fox News Network October 7, 1996 under propaganda meister Roger Ailes, fake but accurate became the gold standard.

I believe it's very simple.... (Below threshold)

I believe it's very simple. lots of people these days believe what they want to believe. The facts be damned! Look at the post by "Phoenix". Doesn't seem to like what is reported on Fox News, so the entire network and it's creator are lies and fakes. Doesn't post any examples to back up that opinion, just throws it out there as the "truth".

Wow! CBS lost whatever cred... (Below threshold)

Wow! CBS lost whatever credibility their new division had with the Rather/Mapes mess, and the lefty troll blames it on Fox News. Such a pathetic person. ww

When Phoenix and his drive-... (Below threshold)

When Phoenix and his drive-by slimes can cite ANYTHING Fox has done that is anywhere near as heinous as CNN's willful covering for Saddam in the 1990's in exchange for "access," or NBC's assault on GM trucks and their sidesaddle tanks, or CBS's use of the fake TANG memos, then I'll give him the slightest hint of credibility.

Until then... he ain't worth the time to rebut.


Obama has a long list of hi... (Below threshold)

Obama has a long list of his own lies/distortions ...

His father and the Kennedy family ...
His parents and Selma ...
His pastors rants that he "never" heard ...
His willingness to be a moderate ...
His real estate pal Rezko ...

Jay, don't forget about <a ... (Below threshold)

Jay, don't forget about Operation Tailwind

Imagine that. An "independe... (Below threshold)

Imagine that. An "independent" advocating moral relativism. Hmmm....from whom have I read those kinds of rants before?

Not to mention Jayson Blair... (Below threshold)

Not to mention Jayson Blair, Duke Rape Hoax, Stephen Glass, Judith Miller, Jon Benet Ramsey, and Richard Jewell to name a few more.

Congratulations, JFO! You'r... (Below threshold)

Congratulations, JFO! You're coming up on your second anniversary of your last relevant comment! That's almost two years of utterly irrelevant twaddle!

What's the appropriate gift for such a momentous achievement?


Ouch!... (Below threshold)


Odd that someone named Phoe... (Below threshold)

Odd that someone named Phoenix leaves his credibility in the ashes, not to be reborn.

J T -Don't you hav... (Below threshold)

J T -

Don't you have a lot of vowels stacked up and laying around from the disemvowelments? Maybe that would do as a prize?

JFO, at least 90% of your c... (Below threshold)

JFO, at least 90% of your comments on my piece boil down to "you're no independent!"

You seldom bother to respond to any of my points, only stopping by to do what you probably think of as a devastating personal slam at me and not what I bring up.

While I find your fixation on me flattering, it is also slightly creepy. If you can't find a new target of your obsession, could you at least find a less tiresome tack?

(I'm guessing no.)


(Yes)... (Below threshold)


You can make the claim that... (Below threshold)

You can make the claim that Gore claimed credit for creating (not inventing) the internet.


yetanotherjohn, I kinda lin... (Below threshold)

yetanotherjohn, I kinda linked to that very same page in my original article...


Kerry's "No Man Left Behind... (Below threshold)

Kerry's "No Man Left Behind" fable was as shot full of holes as was "Christmas in Cambodia". Kerry's press release has he and his crew returning to rescue Rassmann while all the other swiftboats and crew fled the scene...

Kerry Reunites with Fellow Veteran in Iowa

The actual creators of the ... (Below threshold)

The actual creators of the Internet defend Gore's statement.

No one denies that horri... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

No one denies that horrific things happen in Iraq.

Well, no spit, Sherlock. The terrorists and radical Islamists commit atrocities every day against Iraqi citizens. What Chuckles from Blue mAss Group really meant was ' are you saying that atrocities(commited by Americans and Iraqi gov't troops) aren't happening over there? '
You give him too much credit for making an accusation against coalition troops and a pass given to the terrorists; disguised as a legit question.

No one denies that Israel's conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon was, occasionally, brutal.

See above.

JT, I'll answer how JFO alw... (Below threshold)

JT, I'll answer how JFO always answers: Lying liar, Bushitler robot, "independent" liar, Fox News lies like you..." On it goes. So predictable and pathetic. ww

It's a question of foundati... (Below threshold)

It's a question of foundational myths. Every civic body, every culture, has a set of myths that bind them together in a set of common values. These can be explicitly religious (see ancient Greece or the difference between Rome's official and private religions), but need not be. For example, up until the 1960s, the American myth had the following characteristics, among others:

- George Washington chopped down a cherry tree as a young man, and when confronted, came clean because he was too honorable to lie.
- Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution in Europe came to America to set up a religiously pluralist and tolerant society.
- The Founders hated slavery under any conditions, but were forced to accept it rather than have the US become a set of small nations, fighting amongst each other as Europe had done.
- The American drive across the continent was a matter of Manifest Destiny, where poorly ruled Mexican (mostly) areas were brought into free and enlightened American rule.
- The Indians were bloodthirsty savages who needed to be suppressed to protect innocent white farmers.
- We absorbed waves of immigrants peacefully in a great melting pot of civil harmony.

Now all of these have elements of truth and falsehood, but what is critical about them is not their literal veracity, but their message about what it is to be an American: that we are honest, religious but tolerant, respect the liberty of even the most oppressed, respect good governance and the rule of law, protect the innocent from the violent barbarians, and welcome newcomers to our shores. These are worthy aspirations, and the American mythos reinforced them for almost two centuries.

But in the 1960s, it became fashionable to tear down the past; expose America as an imperialist, racist, hateful fraud; and impute from that that America is irredeemable and only the brown-skinned people of the world have worth. In other words, the overriding cultural foundational myth was shattered, and the culture as a result split into several factions, identifiable by their separate foundational myths. The hard Left, the absolute collectivists, who propagated and still propagate the "America: all bad all the time" myth that shattered the American civil consensus in the first place form one faction. Another faction is embodied in the populist part of the religious right, Buchanan and his ilk, as well as the "realists"; their foundational myth is based on the original American foundational myth of "America: all good all the time", but with the usually unspoken definition of Americans as excluding recent immigrants, non-whites, poor people and the like. The third faction is the New Dealers, who accept the American myth as a worthy myth (a myth nonetheless) and accept American ideals, but temper them with a large dose of soft socialism; this faction spans the moderate Republicans and Democrats and probably consists of 70% of the total population. The fourth faction are the individualists, probably the smallest fraction, who hew most closely to the actual founding mythos.

With the moderates split into two parties based on whether they want more socialism in personal matters (the Republicans) or more socialism in economic matters (the Democrats), and with neither party having sufficient pull to get their policies adopted on their own, the parties have reached for the other factions to help them get power. The Democrats pay lip service at least, and often more than that, to the far Left, and the Republicans pay lip service at least, and often more than that, to the far Right. No one pays much attention to the libertarians, because they are too small and too individualistic to be worth the effort of political outreach it would take to win them over.

So since the Republicans and Democrats in their most numerous forms are essentially identical in mythos, but have to appeal to different extremists to get a shot at power, each must focus on differentiating the narrative of their message to pick up the support of the extremists without alienating those who are in the moderate faction, but not totally committed to either the moderate Democrats or the moderate Republicans. This need to create a narrative difference where no substantial actual difference exists leads to playing up minor incidents, irrelevant side issues and those wedge issues that provoke differing emotional responses across the center of the moderate faction. And to do that, "fake but accurate" is perfect, because the truth of the matter is not in question; all that is in question is the mythical impact, the emotional impact, of the event on the various target audiences.

That's a long-winded way to say that "fake but accurate" became a generally accepted standard on the left in about 1974 and on the right in about 1988. In each case, this was when the party started having to pander to more extreme elements in order to maintain the prospect of getting and keeping power.

My guess would be that "fak... (Below threshold)

My guess would be that "fake but accurate" harkens back to the days when Clugg and Ugg were covering up for their misadventures down at the Mammoth Kill.

Snopes and Cerf's attempts ... (Below threshold)

Snopes and Cerf's attempts to rehabilitate Al Gore got old a long time ago. Especially to those of us in the computer business who actually worked on and with the early stages of the Internet when its backbone links were funded by DARPA and its successor NSF.

"When Phoenix and his dr... (Below threshold)

"When Phoenix and his drive-by slimes can cite ANYTHING Fox has done that is anywhere near as heinous as CNN's willful covering for..."

Absolutely laughable JT. Most often it doesn't take more than a day's news cycle to find a Fox distortion, Republican Party propaganda or outright lie.

The constant Fox refrain, "Fair and balanced," is itself a lie repeated throughout their daily propcasts.

As far as something comparable to your favorite CNN citation above, this is just one pretty damn good instance of how assidiously Fox Prop. worked to ram this country into what McSame referenced as a war for oil.

Wow, Phoenix. You got me. F... (Below threshold)

Wow, Phoenix. You got me. Fox repeating information supplied to them by the Secretary of State and other officials is definitely worse than CNN willingly covering up the atrocities and brutalities of Saddam Hussein over YEARS.

And I didn't even mention former CNN head Eason Jordan saying that US forces were deliberately "targeting" journalists for assassinations in Iraq. That so pales in comparison to what Fox did.

But I forget. On your moral continuum, being a tyrannical, genocidal butcher and fomenter of terrorism isn't as bad as being a conservative. Hence those who chose to aid and abet Saddam's dictatorship (like CNN) aren't as bad as those who give conservative ideas and positions anywhere near the play that liberal ideas and positions enjoy on the rest of the mainstream media.

My apologies for forgetting that key distinction.


Sheesh, that's moronic, Pho... (Below threshold)

Sheesh, that's moronic, Phoenix. Stir the ashes of your credibility some more.

Was CNN covering up his atr... (Below threshold)

Was CNN covering up his atrocities and brutalities at the same time Rumsfeld was glad handing Hussein. Or the same time Dick Cheyney was doing business with him. ?

WOW, now that was as eloque... (Below threshold)

WOW, now that was as eloquent of an ass whooping as I have ever heard! Way to go JT!

Phoenix, I don't see anythi... (Below threshold)

Phoenix, I don't see anything wrong with that article.

The concern about UAV's armed with WMDs was legitmate. If you read the Duelfer Report Volume II Delivery Systems Pages 41 - 56 you will see that Saddam did extensive research and development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) for a variety of missions. The Iraq Survey Group determined that while they found no direct evidence to show that any UAVs had been equipped with WMDs, several of the UAV's had the capability.

Page 5,

In 1995, after the MiG-21 conversion failure in 1991, the Iraqis resumed efforts to convert a manned aircraft into a RPV, this time with L-29 trainer aircraft. Research continued intermittently until 2001 when the program was terminated. 'Abd-al-Tawab 'Abdallah Al Mullah Huwaysh, the former Minister of Military Industrialization, stated that the L-29 had the same mission as the MiG-21. ISG judges that the purpose of the MiG-21 RPV program was to deliver CW/BW.
Emphasis is from the report

From Page 46,

"Huwaysh also stated that Iraq developed the MiG-21 RPV as a CBW delivery platform for use against Iran and that a sprayer for the aircraft had been developed. In his opinion, the L-29 was more suitable for CBW dissemination than the MiG-21."

"• The aircraft's (L-29 RPV) payload capability and flight performance are sufficient for use as either a chemical or biological weapons platform.
• Iraq had previously experimented with modifying Mirage F1 external fuel tanks into biological weapons dispensers and had used L-29 drop tanks to produce an agricultural spray system for the Hughes 500 helicopter.
• Iraq had the capability to develop chemical or biological weapon spray systems for the L-29, but there is no evidence of any work along these lines."

Re-read that article and read the Duelfer Report. You will see that the story is not that unreasonable, Saddam did work on UAVs, they were equipped with GPS, they did fly several hundred miles, chemical dispersal systems had been developed and tested and UAVs were designed to be used as a weapons delivery platform.

What exactly makes that story wrong? The article you linked was from February 2003, before the war even started. How was anyone supposed to know exactly what capabilities Saddam truly had? Even Ted Kennedy warned that Saddam was likely to use his WMDs if we attacked him. So how exactly was it an unreasonable concern that Saddam might use UAVs to deploy chemical and biological weapons?

Hindsight is 20/20.

No, JFO, as I understand it... (Below threshold)

No, JFO, as I understand it, the Cheney and Rumsfeld encounters were before the First Gulf War, and CNN's complicity in his atrocities were after it.

If you have evidence showing your incidents happened after 1990, or that CNN's covering up (that's like "reporting," but the complete opposite) took place before that year, feel free to present it.


Well OK Jay, based on the d... (Below threshold)

Well OK Jay, based on the date playing game you're right.

But just to digress a bit. How would you compare CNN's behavior to Rumsfelds and Cheyney's - pre the current Bush administration? Or do you want to duck that too?

Yes, Halliburton sold oil r... (Below threshold)

Yes, Halliburton sold oil related spare parts to Iraq during the 90's. You know, the oil they were supposed to be able to extract and sell for food and medicine. The UNSC monitored such contracts. And sales coming from the US were also approved by the Treasury Dept. first. France, China, Austria, Italy and Russia sold more, to name a few.

OysterYou're becom... (Below threshold)


You're becoming creepy. Hopefully you don't stalk people in real life.

But I notice you "forgot" to address the point about Rumsfeld. Not creepy enough for you?

JFO-What "point" about Rums... (Below threshold)

JFO-What "point" about Rumsfeld? If you are referring to his meeting with Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war, so what? The USA was supporting Iraq vs Iran much in the same manner as Truman's feelings as to supporting the USSR vs Germany. Is it your opinion that a meeting of a USA official with a foreign head-of-state means continued support and approval of all their actions forever?
Anyway, I thought it was now the PC view that the USA should "....talk to anyone anytime"? No?

Jay,Charley <a hre... (Below threshold)


Charley responds that Michelle Malkin admitted that Hussein did in fact exist.






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