The Right Wing Media's Lie Machine

In a video posted on YouTube on February 3, House Representative Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) explains how the right wing media machine creates and spreads disinformation in an effort to smear the left. "Disinformation" should not be confused with "misinformation," the unintentional form of wrong information. Disinformation is produced by people who intend to mislead their audience.

Step 1: Fabricate the Lie

Frank tells how John Fund, an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, told a lie about him in November of last year: In a speech at a conservative function in Florida called "Restoration Weekend," Fund claimed that, after losing the special election in Massachusetts, Democrats Chuck Schumer and Barney Frank were going to propose a bill to create universal voter registration. Fund further stated that Democrats were going to add all welfare recipients and unemployed people to the voter rolls, and he called it "felon re-enfranchisement." In reality, Frank explains, there was no such bill.

Step 2: Activate the Right Wing Media Echo Chamber

Despite that there was no such bill, the Washington Times ran an article proclaiming "Schumer and Frank have plans to ram through legislation that will produce universal voter registration," and saying, "It'll be on the floor of the house in two weeks." Next, conservative TV host Glenn Beck picked up the lie and repeated it on his show, and then Rush Limbaugh did the same. Soon after, the Situation Room, a CNN political program, contacted Frank to ask him why he was bringing the universal voter registration bill. Frank told them there was no such bill, and inquired about the source of their information. He discovered the source was Mr. Fund's statement in his November speech at the "Restoration Weekend." Thus Fund's disinformation provided fuel for the right-wing media's echo chamber, wherein more and more media outlets pick up the disinformation and repeat it across the country, with the intent of generating anger and outrage against Democrats.

Step 3: Zero Fact Checking

Not one of these broadcast figures or entities took the time to check the facts of what they were talking about, Frank said. After discovering the source of the quickly-spreading disinformation, Frank wrote to Mr. Fund to tell him that his assertion about the bill was factually incorrect. Rep. Frank asked Fund to publicly acknowledge that there was, in fact, no bill. Fund did not comply. Fund later admitted privately to one of Rep. Frank's staffers that he had made a mistake, and when the staffer asked whether Fund had issued a retraction, Fund said, "Oh, yeah." But when the staffer asked for a copy, Fund said, "Oh, I, uh, told a couple of people." Fund he never issued a formal retraction of his misstatement.

Voila': A Disinformed Public, in the Dark About Policy

Creating and disseminating lies through the media this way creates a disinformed, confused public. It breeds mistrust and contempt for the press and media, and complicates the lives of Americans immeasurably, as they try to figure out what their government is doing. No wonder politics in recent years has given rise to a fearful, angry cadre of teabaggers who believe in "death panels" and that the President is a socialist Bolshevik from Kenya.

Sad State of the Mass Media

This is far from an isolated incident. I have experienced something similar myself. One night several years ago while watching the local evening news, the anchor reported that groups in Colorado were going to pursue a tax on cigarettes. This pronouncement caught my attention. I had been involved in this issue in Colorado, and hadn't heard anything about it before, so I called the station and asked for the source of their information. They didn't know the source, they said, because it was a pre-packaged news segment they received from a sister station in North Carolina. All they did was broadcast it, without asking any questions. I got the name and number of the TV station who sent it to them, called and asked that station for the source of the information. They didn't know, they said, they got it from somewhere else, and they didn't know where. There was no accountability anywhere, up or down the chain, for the information. It was astonishing. It is clear that the current, unaccountable media climate breeds the easy dissemination of both misinformation and disinformation. I am unaware of any laws prohibiting the intentional fabrication and dissemination of lies through the media. It is clear that hard-core conservatives are taking advantage of this problem with our media to warp the public's understanding of current political issues. As long as this strategy keeps serving the right wing, they will keep applying the technique. Barney Frank's dismal story is a lesson -- and a warning -- about the sad state of American media, and a red flag that people need to be keenly aware of the prevalence of fake information and demand accountability from reporters, newspapers and television stations for every bit of news they report.


It's too bad that Barney Frank missed a teachable moment: what's wrong with welfare recipients and ex-felons voting? He seems to acquiesce by default in the disenfranchisement of those Americans. I propose: if you're a citizen, you vote, whether in jail or out. And if I wanted to take a punitive attitude toward welfare recipients, à la the right, I'd say they should have to present proof of having voted to collect their benefits. (Okay, just kidding about that one.)

Finally, there's someone who can put together what I and millions of Americans have been suspicious of all along. I'm undoubtedly sure that any intelligent person can go find every single lie that the Bush Administration spewed for eight entire years. One of my favorite quotes from that administration to despise goes like this: "[Journalists] are in what we call the reality-based community ... That's not the way the world really works anymore ... When we act, we create our own reality. While you are studying that reality ... we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study, too..." ( The fact that these lies can so easily be spread makes me disgusted. Are we as citizens going to passively allow these bastards to control us through lies? After plenty of research, analysis, and verification, all I can get out of my mouth is, "MOTHER F---ERRRRRRRRRS," (Robin Williams in "Death to Smoochy"). I'm sure that plenty of my fellow Americans can relate. The time has come for a change in politics and journalism. Our children need to learn the arts of fact-checking and exposure of truth. These are the foundations of democracy - a system founded on a free press - a beautiful idea that was founded on a free press. We depend on the truth! Without that freedom and truth, a democracy ends up looking like the present-day United States: a bunch of lazy, passive, non-voting citizens who don't have any idea about what's going on around them. My worry is whether or not these passive bags of fat are going to even attempt a change. Even if there is a miraculous change, more must follow in the coming years. A well-run society mustn't EVER try to conserve, but must assess (and attempt to predict) new information and events as they come, and then come up with rational ways to adapt. If the core principals: truth and freedom, are able to remain, the rest will fall in line. With worry, disgust, and joy, -Gregory Gonzales Philosophy and Journalism freshman at the University of Arizona

Anyone who listens to Democrats or Republicans is missing the big picture. The parties--both of them--are infected with corruption and need to go. If you can't recognize that then you are incapable of critical thinking. It's all scripted theater whether Republican or Democrat. When Obama uses a bloody teleprompter to read to 2nd graders you know it's just a sound bite opportunity. Theater my friends. Barney Frank is a particularly repugnant politician. Here you have a guy that is neck deep in architecting the housing bubble yet continues to chair a powerful House committee and is given a microphone and air time. It's really sad that we tolerate this. If you really think there is a distinction between the parties then you need to step out of the left or right echo chamber and clear your head. They are two sides of the same grubby coin.

That is just another lie.

Amazing how your "Rediculous" commentary to get out of the echo chamber is replete with Republican "talking points." Talk about ridiculous, I'd call that pot black.

It's amazing you small minded people seize on some non-issue such as this and run it in the ground. Many Presidents have used teleprompters as a matter of convenience, not ignorance. GW Bush would be a stellar example of one who should have used one but didn't, that is why he was a national embarrassment world wide. Obama obviously held his own in the many presidential debates that he won against Republican sound-biters. That blows holes in your theory but your not concerned with reality. It just shows your ignorance by repeating that dribble; especially in light of giving 'ol GW two freaking terms. He will go down in history as the dumbest president and the worst choice Americans have made since Herbert Hoover. Thank God I didn't vote for him and proud of it.

If Frank and Democrats really wanted to crackdown on disinformation, they would use their majority in Congress to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, reform the pro-corporate Broadcasting Act from the 90s and crackdown on licensing any cable system or network that participates in spreading disinformation. Freedom of Speech is not free in this country. It's available to those who have enough to run their own channel. Congress can do something about it, but won't because the NAB in particular is a powerful lobbying force.

The media needs to step-up to and stabilize our democracy's '3-legged stool' structure (WH, Congress and media). With the ratings/money/ designed news (in some cases paid for by the same lobbyists influencing our elected officials), we the people have lost our constitutional integrity. Our Justice Department needs require and enforce similar 'truth' standards as done in advertising and labels of food intake. We, as 'the people', can require pure truth when we are counting on folks we elect and pay for to behave in our interest. In the meantime ... viva la Internet

It's interesting that the Wall Street Journal is actually two entirely different publications in one. On the one hand, its news pages contain the most accurate, well-researched and balanced reporting you'll find in this country (though the topics covered skew toward the business community). On the other hand, its editorial pages are entirely right wing with little regard for the truth and no regard for fairness. They are often inaccurate and always the untruths are in favor of their own biases.

This is an excellent description of how the right wing uses the media so effectively to promote their message. It's also a sad statement on the state of journalism today and the corporate-run mainstream media. Until we find a way to value truth in reporting again in this society, politicians on both sides will continue to abuse the system for their own gain. The right wing just has the media formula down better than the left side. What we need is a revolution to overturn the corrupt corporatocracy that's running the world right now. And the only way to do that is to cultivate an informed public. Glad to see the Center for Media and Democracy staying on top of this!