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Memo to media: There is no right-wing "smell test"

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Headlined to H3 11/11/10

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Another day, another lie about Obama.

It's hard to keep count of them all at this point. But every now and then a whopper gets rolled out that's so preposterous and jaw-droppingly dumb that the sheer idiocy of it draws attention and a crowd of gawkers form to marvel.

That's what unfolded last week when the bright lights within the GOP Noise Machine latched onto an Indian news report that quoted an anonymous official who claimed President Obama's diplomatic trip to India was going to cost $8.3 million per-hour in security costs, and that nearly three dozen U.S. war ships were also making the trip to provide protection.

Of course, the $200 million-a-day price tag made no sense. No sane person would think for a moment that the U.S. government would send 34 war ships in support of an overseas presidential visit, or lay out $2 billion on a ten-day diplomatic excursion. No rational person would think that because it's utterly absurd. Or, as a Pentagon spokesman said last week of the war ship claim, it's "comical."

Marveling at how the story unfolded, NBC's Chuck Todd tweeted that he was surprised the absurd numbers gained any traction and that a simple "smell test" would have halted the story in its tracks. But that might have given right-wing partisans too much credit by assuming they were interested, or even cared about, getting the story right.

And that's a sentiment that remains common among media elite, this idea that far-right media players sometimes get things wrong and that for everyone's benefit they ought to apply a common sense "smell test" before they run with controversial stories, like the one about Obama's India trip.

But here's the thing, there is no right-wing smell test. It no longer exists. In fact, there appears to be no sense of smell at all, which is closely related to the right-wing media's lack of common sense and decency. (It's a package deal.)

For instance, did Sarah Palin's death panel claim pass any kind of smell test last year? And what about the right-wing blogosphere's freak-out this summer that Mexican gangs had invaded Texas? The wide-eyed proclamation that two million Tea Partiers had marched on Washington, D.C., in September, 2009? That Obama wanted to "ban sport fishing," that he lied about attending his daughter soccer game, or that he's a Kenyan-born Muslim? Or, has anything that Jim Hoft has posted at his right-wing site, Gateway Pundit, ever passed the smell test?

No.

None of hysterical allegations above make any sense or pass any kind of elementary "smell test." But day in and day out the right-wing noise machine traffics in this kind of utter nonsense pretending they're connected with reality and breaking "news."

That's why this isn't really about the India trip and the foolish costs attributed to it. That was simply last week's caper. This week will bring some other made-up controversy to take its place. And next week will come another fabrication. And on and on it goes, a perpetual wave of made-up claims and allegations that crumble beneath the slightest scrutiny, but that collectively create a din of negative background noise. That signature sound of the GOP Noise Machine you hear is a thousand points of lies colliding into each other.

The India whopper was simply Obama Derangement Syndrome in its most acute stage. If you're Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck and you're sitting behind a microphone and you hate the President of the United States so much that you actually believe that the U.S. government is going to spend $200 million a day to send the president to India, you're not only an idiot (do the math) but you're suffering a crippling case of ODS. I mean, if an anonymous Indian official had claimed Air Force One was now made out of gingerbread, would Limbaugh and Beck and Michelle Malkin and the entire Fox News have guffawed over the revelation and mocked Obama for flying around in an oversized cookie?

Yes.

Unfortunately, the continued denial from the Beltway press remains one of the most pressing issuing facing our political discourse, and here's why: One side of the media debate has made a conscious and calculated decision to cleanly break from reality. The GOP Noise Machine, or the "alternative, self-contained, right-wing media world," as Rachel Maddow described it last week, now proudly traffics in misinformation. Period. That's what it is designed to do. That's what it thrives on and that's how its successes are measure.

And not just borderline misinformation where purveyors latch onto a grain of truth and try to grow it into something substantial. No, we're talking Obama's-India-trip-will-cost-$2 billion type of misinformation, i.e. profoundly stupid and illogical misinformation. They peddle this stuff all the time and they clearly don't care who knows it. Meaning, it's not a secret and they don't seem to mind if journalists notice the trend.

Yet still, too many members of the Beltway press corps cling to the old rules. They continue to give the liars the benefit of the doubt, pretending that right-wing media players like Limbaugh and Beck and Malkin and the Fox News team are just partisans who kinda cut corners to make a point. Y'know, the way most political players do.

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Eric Boehlert is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, 2006). He worked for five years as a senior writer for Salon.com, where he wrote extensively about media and politics. Prior to that, he worked as a contributing (more...)
 
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