The Fake SEAL Pastor and His Enabler

Can we fit three of the most poisonous things wrong with our society into a single incident?  YES:

A Pastor fabricated his past as a Navy SEAL (emphasis mine):

Several former SEALs wrote into The Patriot-News casting doubt on the reverend’s account of his service.

“We deal with these guys all the time, especially the clergy. It’s amazing how many of the clergy are involved in those lies to build that flock up,” said retired SEAL Don Shipley. Shipley also speculated the waterboarding and kitchen details came from the action depicted in “Under Siege.”

One could write a library’s worth of books about the propensity to lie in order to convert, or that sticky mix of patriotism and bloodlust that so fully consumes the national discourse on war.

The paper’s response upon finding out about this falsehood takes the cake (emphasis mine):

The paper, meanwhile, is unapologetic for printing Moats’ prevarications.

“The Patriot-News regularly interviews veterans to tell their stories. We do not regularly ask those we interview for proof of their service, believing these men and women would not lie and dishonor those who have fought bravely defending our country,” the paper said in a special note to readers about the incident.

A newspaper that eschews proof in favor of faith is worthless.

So there we have it.  A pastor who lies and the newspaper that enabled him and refuses to apologize for taking the information it gathers at face value, and the underlying obsession with our warrior class simmering underneath it all.  If you have any question as to how we find ourselves continually suffering as a nation, look directly at this fact: That we glorify violence and avoid the truth.

The Liars That Get Away

Professional liars like James O’Keefe are able to successfully manipulate the media into damaging their targets.  Amanda Marcotte writes:

At this point, he releases a video, everyone knows up front that he’s a liar, and everyone will just pretend that he’s not for the 12-24 hours it takes for the video to ruin someone’s life.  And he’ll basically gloat in public by releasing the full video, as if to say, “Hey, we all know I’m lying, but no one seems to give a flying fuck!”And on that, he’s right.

How do you fight against that?

This folds nicely into a larger question of how we fight a range of falsehoods perpetuated and popularized by the media.  New organizations (or companies purporting to be news organizations such as Fox News) can all too easily put false info out there, at which point it becomes “effective truth” (Digby):

This is why O’Keefe is able to keep going. The Village really believes that it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not once it’s “out there”. O’Keefe and the Brietbartians know this and since they get oxygen from the fact that liberals flail around trying to prove them wrong

This is a dire strategic problem for our country.  Without the proper facts we cannot make the proper decisions, and one party is content with governing based on wild falsehoods:

MAHER: New Rule – Fantasies are for sex, not public policy. When you go down the list of useless distractions that make up the Republican Party agenda; public unions and Sharia law, anchor babies and a mosque at ground zero, ACORN and National Public Radio, the war on Christmas, the New Black Panthers, Planned Parenthood, Michelle Obama’s war on desserts…

…you realize that one reason nothing gets done in America is that one of the political parties puts so much more into fantasy problems. Governing this country with Republicans is like rooming with a meth addict.

You want to address real life problems like when the rent is due and they’re saying “How can you even think of that stuff when there’s police scanner voices coming out of the air conditioning unit?”

This creates a massive power imbalance favoring lie-based politicians and pundits, and leads to policy decisions with very real effects.

So what can we do to counter?  A few things:

  1. Support non profit journalism (via Miguel Bloomfontosis)
  2. Build a website to document lies, sources, and media acceptance in a way that makes said data easy to digest and use.
  3. Hit the pocketbooks of media organizations that go along with falsehoods (via Olive)
  4. Proof by Prank – If we are going to drive home how toxic this is, we need to use the media’s willingness to publish anything buzz worthy coupled with their love of navel gazing to our own advantage.
  5. Cultivate brave and perceptive public figures who can – when a new lie hits – see it for what it is and step in to counter it.
  6. Break up the monopolies.

1.  Any support that gives real journalism a chance to live and thrive outside the bounds of a profit motive will serve us in this battle, and in many more to come.

2.  With intelligent data we can identify trends and bolster arguments.  Do some organizations fall more readily for these kind of lies?  How often do they repeat them?  How long does it take to issue retractions?  How frequently do they repeat those retractions?  Are the retractions made through the same media as the lie(is a tv mistake retracted only on the website)?  Etc.  What we need here are dedicated volunteers to gather data, verify data, and a web application that can transform that data into a story laypeople can quickly grasp.

3. Armed with #2 we will know who to go after.  Is CNN especially susceptible?  Then we need a campaign to go after their advertisers.

4. Using your opponent’s strengths and weakness alike against them is essential when fighting a more powerful foe.  The media’s strength is that it can take any story and disseminate it quickly to a large number of people.  Their weaknesses are a willingness to forgo diligence in order to snag a potentially juicy story, and a love of gazing inwards.  This gives us the opportunity for a real one-two punch.  Our first strike takes advantage of their strength and willingness to accept “evidence” at face value.  A false video of our own could gain wide play before it gets outed.  At which point we engage in the essential step two – claiming responsibility and using the prank as an opportunity to drive home repeatedly the problem the media has with accepting stories like this uncritically (and dearth of critical reporting in general).

5. Once someone like James O’Keefe let’s the cat out of the bag – we know.  The instant a known liar puts forth a ridiculous story we need people in high places to go on the news shows and tear down both the lies of people like O’Keefe, and to criticize the media directly for accepting them.

6. Media companies have become large corporations that collude on coverage.  As such when it comes to the product (news articles) – we are unable to get the product we need from the companies that utterly dominate the market.  This impacts what gets covered (blogs may be able to expose cracks here and there, and if we pretend wikileaks isn’t being politically prosecuted we can imagine viable alternatives to getting the truth out – but largely investigative journalism happens at the pleasure of these large media companies).  For a country that votes a functioning news service is a public utility.  If private companies want in on the game that’s fine, but there needs to be a greater responsibility to provide accurate news – even if that responsibility only comes from societal pressure.  At the very least though – we need to break them up.  Large multinationals are simply too powerful to respond to pressure in a way that makes them truly accountable.

With each of these initiatives in place we could make sizable headway towards changing the way our media functions.

Open Letter to CS Monitor – Tea Party Coverage

Please stop referring to the Tea Party as “grassroots” or “populist”.

The Tea Party exploits populist sentiments – to a degree – and is otherwise the plaything of very wealthy and powerful conservative men.

Writing like this piece by Patrick Johnson at the otherwise excellent CS Monitor is simply negligent:

But the tea party phenomenon teeters at a critical point in its rags-to-riches two-year history.

The Tea Party never had a “rags” moment in its history.

Stupid Headline: How the New Wealth Taxes Won’t Hit You

Let’s say I wanted to write an article about how a local tax in a South Carolina town might effect local residents.  I wouldn’t give that article a sweeping title implying residents of Massachusetts or Texas might face the task.  Well, I’m not a writer nor an editor for the Wall Street Journal.

In an article by the Wall Street Journal’s Laura Sanders, she writes “How the New Wealth Taxes Will Hit You“.  That would be a pretty short article.  The answer is, they don’t.  She’s talking about families raking in more than a quarter of a million dollars annually (or laughably, families whose only income comes from stocks!  Yeah this is certainly geared towards the common man).

The language used in the headline plays into a couple conservative myths:

  • Obama is raising taxes – Not for the majority of the population, in fact they are lower.
  • Taxes on the wealthy will somehow impact the average voter.  Nope.

Using slick tricks like this to spread conservative propaganda shows how compromised the Wall Street Journal’s journalistic integrity is, and how weak the conservative economic platform is.  It just won’t sell without a dollop of snake oil.

Health Care Reform in a Nutshell

The Republicans are engaging in fascist tactics to repress town hall Democracy while spitting out the most vicious and fearful lies they can think up.

The misnamed center straight up wants to kill health care reform.

The Democrats are working to ensure whatever reform exists will have as little meaning as possible, keeping the control with a handful of private for profit companies that literally get away with murder. (Which boils down to the essential question, what do we do to stop the systematic betrayal by people we fundraise, organize and vote for?)

The President is on a promise breaking spree, trying to see how firmly he can fasten the phrase “have politics as usual” onto the end of “yes we can”.

Privileged members of the press
with access to influence public opinion fundamentally do not understand health care as a basic human right.

Health Care in this country managed by companies that exist to make money, not to ensure Americans get health care. Health Care costs are such that individual Americans cannot hope to afford their care without outside assistance. Thus even covered Americans have no protection against the whims of insurance executives. What they do directly amounts to murder.

Yet our reform process is being led by Democrats willing to make concessions on vital points, and then give those up at even the appearance of opposition. It is being opposed by Republicans, the health care industry and a media willing to go to any length to prevent meaningful change, including lying and inciting violence. What little hope we have in government is in the timid Progressive Caucus. Health Care is a human right, and absolutely every power player in this game is working to ensure we change nothing of substance.

Funny that, in a country where 72% of the nation wants health care reform. Makes you wonder why WE aren’t on the streets protesting. Makes you wonder a lot of things.

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The Problem With Calling Abortion Murder

Let’s say I said administrators at a school were routinely picking out high school students teachers didn’t like, and killing them.  Let’s say in addition, they had the full complicity of our legal system.  Would you be in the streets protesting?  Would you be writing articles or blog posts?  Or would you be in that school trying to rescue the kids, and shooting the administrators?

The problem with lying and calling abortion murder is that it leads directly to shit like this: An abortion provider was shot to death in Kansas.

Make no mistake about it, calling abortion murder is a lie.  One that anti-choice activists do not believe:
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Obama and the Anti-Choice Whisper Campaign

Most of America doesn’t like what Sarah Palin represents.  She’s so extreme on abortion she’d favor mandatory birth even if her own daughter were raped.  That simply isn’t in line with the American public.

The Republicans know this, and they’ve begun an urgent whisper campaign to paint Obama as a baby-killer to try and push Obama’s perceived positions out of the mainstream and into the fringe with their own.  This goes beyond the standard “Every Fertilized Egg is Sacred” line the most radical of the anti-choice movement parrot.  They’ve dug up a vote and deliberately and maliciously warped it into a rumor designed to feed into the worst fears of people on the reproductive rights fence.

I logged onto facebook today to notice a conservative Catholic friend had promoted a website shamelessly flaunting the irony in its name.  A cursory look at conservative blogs sees a frenzy of eager-to-slander bloggers jumping on this chance to regurgitate the rumor (Read this for an insight into the kind of person behind these attacks).  Seeing this come from a friend was unsettling, so I figured I’d take some time and break down why Obama opposed the bill.

First of all, and I’m going out on a real limb here, I’m pretty sure actual infants are already protected by law.  Now, onto fetuses (Dana Goldstein via Feministing):

But BAIPA isn’t really about protecting infants; it is anti-abortion rights legislation crafted by the hard right. BAIPA targets the abortion procedure known as dilation and extraction, which anti-choicers have so successfully re-branded as “partial birth abortion.”

Wait, its a misnamed piece of legislation crafted by the hard right?  Haven’t we seen that somewhere before?  Back to the bill, it was a crafty attempt by the anti-choice movement to mask their intentions (they seem to have a lot of trouble when they are upfront and honest):

The antis want to redefine these fetuses as “born alive” and require that doctors provide “resuscitation.” As a state senator, Obama saw BAIPA for what it was: an ideologically-motivated ploy to vilify women and doctors who choose abortion. On the state Senate floor on April 4, 2002, he explained, “This issue ultimately is about abortion and not live births. Because if there are children being born alive, I, at least, have confidence that a doctor who is in that room is going to make sure that they’re looked after.”

The horribly misnamed pro-life movement tried to pull a fast one on reproductive choice, and Barack Obama saw clear through it.  The “Born Alive” act wasn’t about protecting babies.  It was about using lies to force a religious viewpoint on a secular nation.  Obama stood up to it.

And in the fall we’re going to stand up to Palin and McCain.