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.