Tuesday, September 15, 2009

When the Lie Is Obvious, Why Tell It? The Size of the 9.12 Crowds and the Right's Strategy of Lying

Eric Boehlert offers incisive analysis yesterday at Media Matters of the lies spun by FreedomWorks' Matt Kibbe and wingnut commentator Michelle Malkin this week, re: the size of the crowds at the 9.12 protests. As I noted yesterday, it was reported that the crowds reached the 2 million level, when accurate estimates place the size of the gathering in D.C. at closer to 60 or 70 thousand.

As Nate Silver observes, Kibbe's bold-faced lie about the size of the crowds is equivalent to telling folks his penis is 53 inches long. He didn't just lie--he lied boldly, exaggerating the size of the crowds thirtyfold, and knowing as he did so that no one in his or her right mind would swallow the exaggeration.

And that raises questions about why the right-wing blogosphere has attempted not merely to push an easily disproven lie, but to keep on telling it over and over, accompanying the lie-meme with a picture of the crowd that can easily be proven to have been taken some years ago, and not this past weekend.

In Boehlert's view, the liars are lying because they know they can do so: they know they can do so with impunity. No one will think the worse of them for lying blatantly:

Nobody within the right-wing blogosphere seems to be the slightest bit upset, let alone embarrassed or chastened, for having been part of a farcical, inept attempt to inflate the size of Saturday's rally by 1,930,000 people. Nobody seems to think it reflects poorly on them as a community, or that it will damage their collective reputation.

They really are shameless. And they really do inhabit their own parallel political universe where everyone's allergic to facts.

My own reading of this lie is more cynical, I'm afraid. I'll grant that Kibbe and Malkin (and all those who have spread the meme) have lied without compunction because they and their kind know very well they can continue posturing as exemplars of morality while violating the most basic tenets of moral behavior. They have debased the coinage of political discourse precisely to that end.

But I think something else--something far more cynical--is at work in this strategy of bold, easily disproven, shameless lying. Kibbe and Malkin lied deliberately in order to establish boundaries for the discussion of the crowd's size that would automatically move towards the top end of possibility rather than in the direction of accuracy.

In placing the size of the crowd near 2 million when they knew very well that it was nowhere near that number, Kibbe and Malkin intended to cow the media and anyone else trying to estimate the crowd's size into overestimating the size of the event, rather than reporting as accurately as possible on the numbers present in D.C.

This was a strategic lie. It's intended to assure that, no matter how many folks attended the 9.12 event, all estimates of crowd size would be as robust as possible.

This is one of the key ways in which the right has been manipulating public awareness and media coverage of events for some time now--through outright, deliberate lies that grow ever bolder, as those engaging in this behavior find they can get away with it. And that their claim to be guardians of morality, even as they lie boldly, is not going to be challenged. These lies are designed to move political discourse away from truth and towards ideology--right-wing ideology.

And they're successful lies, in that regard. The center has been deliberately moved so far to the right that information from any sector other than the right, which once would have been taken into consideration without question in our national political debates, now has to pass ludicrous litmus tests in order to be taken into consideration, while even the stupidest and silliest claims of the right automatically receive serious consideration in the mainstream media.

And this is how the game of politics is going to continue to be played in the U.S., until we stop legitimating the voices of the lunatic fringe on the right, and start permitting back into the center a wide spectrum of views and information the lunatic right has succeeded in labeling as illicit and dangerous in the past several decades of political and cultural history.