Turning water into wine and other transformed facts: As always, it has been a bad week for the facts. One grisly example was offered by Pew, in this illuminating post.
Which president enacted TARP, the venerable institute asked in a poll. Forty-seven percent said Obamawrongly. Only 34 percent said Bush.
Nineteen percent had the good solid sense to say they damn straight didnt know.
How do people get such things wrong? One possible answer: If you watch Fox, you hear it insinuated, time after time, that TARP is one of the many ways Obama has spent like a socialist sailor. As usual, there has been no serious attempt by the liberal world or the mainstream press corps to challenge this free-floating war on the facts. In our current arrangements, we still have no high-profile media organs which challenge such wars on the facts.
In similar ways, voters have heard floating claims, down through the years and in recent weeks, about the way the anchor baby phenomenon works. About where Cordoba House will be. About the people behind it.
This is an old, familiar patternfueled by the desire to deceive, enabled by liberal indifference. That said, we were intrigued by one bungled fact which got a lot of play this past week. Below, you see it as it (apparently) first appeared, in Londons Daily Mail. The hapless newspaper was reporting on Michelle Obamas big sprawling trip to Spain:
DAILY MAIL (8/4/10): She is on a four-day visit and will be staying at the five-star Villa Padierna, rated as one of the worlds top 30 hotels, with 40 friends. The hotel has reserved 60 rooms.
In fact, Obama was traveling with two friends (and their children), not forty. How did the Daily Mail get it so wrong? Journalists dont really need an excuse, but the newspapers feckless scribes may have misread a report in the August 3 Womens Wear Daily, which said, using a magical word, that forty accommodations have reportedly been reserved for Obamas trip.
Back to the flow: The Daily Mail bungled the fact on August 4; free flow took over from there. As water was once transformed into wine, two friends were transformed into forty. Rush Limbaugh swung into action, in ways Eric Boehlert has reported at Media Matters (link below). Andrea Tantaros passed on the forty friends claim in her August 5 column in the New York Post.
Tantaros is a nasty piece of work. For that reason, and because shes young and telegenic, shell be around a long time. But by now, the bogus fact had a life of its ownand not just in conservative organs. The notion that Obama was traveling with forty of her closest friends fed an image of grandiosity. The claim was rather widely repeated, even in major news organs:
The echo chamber
Michael Sneed, in the Chicago Sun-Times, August 5.
Jack Cafferty, on CNNs Situation Room, August 5.
Bret Baier, on the Fox News Channels Special Report, August 5.
Elizabeth Palmer, on the CBS Early Show, August 6.
Ruth Marcus, on the Washington Post blog, August 6.
(Through syndication, the Marcus post appeared in at least three other newspapers.)
Mary Kate Cary, on the US News blog, August 9.
Glenn Beck, on Fox, August 9.
On August 9, Richard Roeper ridiculed the silly flap in his Chicago Sun-Times columnand repeated the bogus fact in the process!
Given the world in which we live, the flap about this trip was inevitable. As a political matter, taking the trip was unwise. But remember what happened after the trashing of Shirley Sherrod? Remember the way the pundits all swore they would check every fact after that?
One final note about facts:
It can rarely be stated, as a fact, that some important person has lied. In this recent post, Eric Boehlert clearly seems to describe Rush Limbaugh lying about this fake fact. When someone like Limbaugh deliberately lies, that is an actual news event. Newspapers ought to report it.
In this case, newspapers wont report it. It simply isnt part of the culture. The familiar culture of the fake fact is accepted all over the press corps.
Other ways to advance preferred stories: Note the way Sharyl Attkisson reported this story on the CBS Evening News, with Katie Courics permission. These are the things major players will do to keep their millions in salary:
COURIC (8/5/10): When Michelle Obama visited the Gulf Coast, she reminded us that many beaches were still open and suggested it was a good place to vacation, but right now shes vacationing in Spain and taking some flack for it back home. Sharyl Attkisson is at the White House tonight. Sharyl?
ATTKISSON: Well, Katie, its not the quiet mother-daughter trip that the first lady would have been able to take as a private figure.
Last night, Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha dined with friends in Marbella. That was after a shopping trip. Earlier, a 15-vehicle convoy shuttled the entouragean undisclosed number of staff, Secret Service, and friendsto a posh hotel where rooms normally run from $300 to $6,000 a night.
The first ladys group is said to occupy 60 rooms.
The group was said to occupy 60 rooms? Said by whom? Said correctly?
In this manner, Attkisson and Couric pimped themselves out to conservative power. They pimped the desired storyvast grandiosity!without quite using fake facts.
Special report: Bombs away!
INTERLUDEVIEWS OF THE GODS (permalink): On last evenings Countdown, two of the gods were discussing the rabble.
A new CNN poll showed the country split on amending the 14th amendment. (Text of question below.) Faithfully aping the new liberal line, the gods announced their judgment:
OLBERMANN (8/12/10): Theres a new poll out that shows 49 percent of Americans support changing the 14th Amendment in some way and 51 percent oppose. Is this more complex than just classic American sort of cyclical xenophobia?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: It certainly is xenophobia, but its got a little eugenics mixed in with it.
The professors full answer appears belowthough it got little better.
People, the gods are mighty! Ever since the Washington Post printed that bull crap by Matthew Yglesias, everyone knows to throw X-bombs around, with a nod to those classical cycles. In this case, both gods understood the 49 percent. It certainly is xenophobia, one god said, with a little eugenics mixed in.
Its hard to get much dumber than that, although the gods will try. To review a less godly set of reactions, lets review what Steve Benen said about this and two other poll questions.
On Wednesday, Benen reviewed a set of CNN poll questions in a rather fair-and-sane post. Even there, he couldnt help tilting the field just a tad. Why would 49 percent say they favor some sort of constitutional amendment, in response to that first poll question? (As you may know, the Constitution says that all children born in the United States are automatically U.S. citizens regardless of their parents' status. Would you favor or oppose a Constitutional amendment to prevent children born here from becoming U.S. citizens unless their parents are also U.S. citizens?) Steve found the whole thing depressing:
BENEN (8/11/10): That's depressingly a high number for a basic American principle. Looking through the crosstabs, self-identified Democrats oppose a new amendment by a wide margin (61%-39%), Republicans are nearly as strong in the other direction (40%-58%), and Independents are evenly split. Only one regionthe Southhas more supporters of an amendment than opponents.
Steve was basically playing it fair; no X-bombs or E-bombs rained down on the rabbles heads. But does Steve have to be depressed by those numbersand does that question really involve a basic American principle? Trust usthe vast majority of respondents had never given a moments thought to that basic principlea principle that is so basic that it was written into the Constitution in 1868.
Without any question, the 14th amendment is a basic part of American history. Its a very important part of that history; it ensured the citizenship of black men and women after emancipation, on the state and federal levels. But is it really a basic American principle when we say that children born to foreign nationals on American soil are thereby American citizens? Please. If two French tourists give birth in this country, by what basic American principle is their child a U.S. citizen? Their child is such a citizen, due to this amendment. But theres no obvious reason why he or she should be, and the vast majority of respondents had never given this matter a moments thought until they confronted the pollster.
People have heard a lot of smack about anchor babies in the past few weeks. Very few facts have emergedand such facts as have emerged are being spun by players on various sides. But do we have to be depressed when people think it doesnt make sense to grant citizenship in this case? For ourselves, we would say noand we certainly dont have to unloose our various X- and E-bombs.
But then, we arent one of the gods.
The second question Steve explored involved Cordoba House. (As you may know, a group of Muslims in the U.S. plan to build a mosque two blocks from the site in New York City where the World Trade Center used to stand. Do you favor or oppose this plan?) This question was a tiny bit slantedCordoba House is more than a mosquebut it produced a highly negative reaction, with 68 percent of respondents saying they oppose this plan. Steve was being fair this day. But those data brought an I-bomb down, along with the mandatory aping of Yglesias ridiculous article:
BENEN: Opposition spanned genders, races, age, income levels, party ID, regions, and education levels. Literally the only constituency in this poll that favors the Cordoba House are self-identified liberals, and even within this group, it was close51% to 45%.
That's the bad news, and it reflects the kind of intolerance that's often associated with times of economic distress.
No wonder Yglesias quakes in this summer of fear! As it turns out, even 45 percent of us liberals are displaying the kind of intolerance that's often associated with times of economic distress! Meanwhile, on this liberal planet of the apes, everyone seems to know that he must ape the scary thing poor Matthew said. When we liberals are so intolerant, we are sadly reflecting these times of economic distress.
Kidding aside, please understand what Steve said here: 68 percent of the country displayed intolerance in response to that question. It isnt that such a thing couldnt be possible. But is that really the only explanation we liberals can dream or abide?
Steve was getting a bit gloomy here, but there was also good news in the poll, he said. By 60 percent, the public favored the bill to help fund public school teachersand a majority also said yes when asked about same-sex marriage. (Do you think gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?) 52 percent said yes; only 46 percent said no. Steve hailed these encouraging data:
BENEN: That's pretty amazing, and marks a rather dramatic rise in the level of support for marriage equality. There are clear partisan differencesa clear majority of Dems and Indys support, a clear majority of Republicans oppose.
That was our initial reaction tooalthough, on re-checking, we think we were wrong. This result came from a half-sample; the other half-sample, asked a slightly different question, gave a slightly negative reply on the question of same-sex marriage. And these overall numbers dont seem much different from ongoing figures concerning same-sex marriage. That said, even as Steve cheered this reply, he forgot to ask a question: What happened to all the cyclical xenophobia with which were gripped in this summer of fear? Does it turn us against Latinos, but not against gays and lesbians?
Next week, we plan to continue our discussion of the liberal worlds love of its bombsits R-bombs, X-bombs, N-bombs, I-bombs and even its S, M and B and H-bombs. For today, we thought we might take a moment to review the way our gods react to the rabble. A godly professor dropped X- and E-bombs when confronted with their lowly conduct. And Digby knew what she was seeing, as this great god always does. In this passage, she is discussing the Cordoba House matter:
DIGBY (8/12/10): I think the thing that's most jarring about this controversyand the similar protests around the countryis that it's happening eight years after the fact. It would have made far more sense in the immediate aftermath, but the nation managed to resist this by and large (with some very notable exceptions.) My assumption is that this was because the president and the Republicans kept a leash on their neanderthals, which they are clearly failing to do now. Indeed, they have joined them.
And obviously, this has something to do with it. (Whether they are projecting their bigotry against African Americans on to Muslims or their bigotry against Muslims onto African Americans remains an open question. Not that it really matters.)
But a large majority of the country don't think this cultural center project should happen, and people all over the country are protesting the building of mosques in their neighborhoods suddenly, so it isn't just wing-nuts letting their most outlandish freaks' flags fly in NYC. Has this know-nothing hostility been out there all along and was just held back by the GOP establishment or is it just plain old racism and xenophobia come to the surface in an environment which welcomes it?
Linking to the CNN poll, Digby notes that a large majority of the country don't think this cultural center project should happen. Then, this great god did what she frequently does. She unleashed her R- and X-bombs, with her B-bombs already cast.
When the gods look down on the rabble, they see little they find pleasing. One word of caution: On the merits, wed say this is very dumb. On the politics, it strikes us as death.
This just in from one of the xenophobes: On Sunday, the Post published this shorter piece, inside the Outlook section, as a companion to Yglesias page-one cartoon. Its from a xenophobe named Neda Bolourchi who was born in pre-revolutionary Iran. I still identify as a Muslim, Bolourchi says. When you are born into a Muslim family, there is no way around it, no choices available: You are Muslim.
When it comes to Cordoba House, Bolourchi is with the 68 percentthe racists, the bigots, the xenophobes. We go the other way on this issue; wed vote with the 29 percent. (And, of course, that number might change as people get more information about the project and the people behind it.) But when we see the gods on high toss their bombs down on the rabble, we sometimes find ourselves wondering who the real bigots are around here.
That number might change as people get more information. But who will bring such news to the rabble? The gods who drop bombs from such heights?
The professors completed thought: The professors have been in the news this week, not always willingly. (Enjoy that wonderfully comical headline: Expert on Morality Is on Leave After Research Inquiry.)
This is another professors full, completed thought:
HARRIS-LACEWELL: It certainly is xenophobia, but its got a little eugenics mixed in with it. Part of what I see going on here is, first, a deep misunderstanding about the 14th Amendment, and for whom the 14th Amendment provided citizenship. And although certainly part of it was about newly freed persons after the Civil War, it was also about all Americans.
In other words, I want Americans to pause for a moment and ask themselves, On what basis would you determine citizenship, if not based on where a child is born? So are we willing to go to a kind of genetic grandfather clause for American citizenship? Do you have to have two parents who are citizens? How about grandparents? How about great-grandparents? The notion becomes very quickly a racialized one, where the idea of who will count as American becomes genetic rather than location.
And I think all of us, white Americans, black Americans, Latinos who are in the country as citizens, and people who are here illegally and without documentation, should all be worried about such a notion.
After saying were certainly xenophobic, Harris-Lacewell was actually pretty nice, taking the time to let us know what she wanted us doing next.
By the way, why do we have white Americans and black Americans, but only Latinos who are in the country as citizens? Is that the most racist statement you ever heard?
Why? Why not? Rabble, please! Explain in 500 words.