>(Cue Montell Jordan's "This is How We Do It", click on track 3 for a background music clip...)
A long time ago (the summer of 1997) in a galaxy far, far away (a state government office in Chicago, IL), I worked at an internship that was life altering. During the summer (and the one that preceded it), I discovered that a career in public policy was an excellent way to drive positive change for society. This observation led me to realize that I didn't really want to be a lawyer, and I subsequently dropped out of law school on my third day. I also learned what it was like to have effective bosses and the type of supervisor that I hoped to become someday. Unfortunately, this only made things more challenging in the future when, save for Alex's husband, every other person I worked for leaned toward the well-meaning-but-incompetent school of management. Finally, I learned how conservatives lie so effectively.
One afternoon, I was reading a research brief published by Robert Rector (my boss called him Robert Rectum for good reason) at the Heritage Foundation. The report claimed that food stamps made poor people fat by allowing them to eat too many nutritionally rich foods. (Don't laugh. I know this is insane, but it actually said that.) As proof, Rector/Rectum included a chart from the FDA or some other government agency (HHS?) showing the nutritional intake of children at or below the poverty level compared with kids with upper class incomes. The text describing the chart claimed that in all categories of vitamins and minerals except one (and I don't remember which that was), poor kids got more nutrients than wealthy kids. I looked at the chart. The information on the chart said exactly the opposite of what Rector/Rectum described. Since the evidence (poor kids are not accessing healthy foods) did not fit their goal (cut food stamps, regardless of the consequences), the Heritage Foundation just wrote what they wanted to and assumed people would quote the text without verifying the facts. What scared me is that they are right: the media and elected officials continue to rotely spew out misinformation, which is then accepted by others as accurate information, and thus the lies become facts.
It's terrifying. Recently, Rudy Giuliani used dubious numbers from a conservative think tank (ie - a batch of lying liars who produce lies) about prostate cancer, which was repeated verbatim - without analysis or comment - by most mainstream media outlets. Sure, some op-ed pages later tried to set the record straight, but by then a lot of damage was done. The falsity became an accepted fact. In the supposedly liberal New York Times, columnist David Brooks printed a white-washed (in every sense of the word white) report on a racist act committed by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 campaign. Reagan chose to speak about states' rights in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964; a town that still protected many of those who were involved in the killings. "States' rights" have long been code words for anti-civil rights legislation, because how dare we tell states that non-whites have rights? (Except you don't hear much about states' rights when the right-wing tells states that they have to obey the anti-abortion laws of other states, as the Republicans have tried to do many times by entering legislation that says that states without parental notification laws must follow the laws of states with parental notification laws under certain circumstances, but I digress.) This forced two other columnists to waste their next scheduled columns setting the record straight: Reagan knew exactly what he was doing when he went there and said those specific words. But the strategy worked. Not only is there misinformation out there, but it took time and effort away from other issues that could have been addressed.
The pen is absolutely mightier than the sword, especially when it is a poisoned pen and the ink gets on us all. Insidious, invidious, and utterly brilliant.