Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Another Right-Wing Lie Is Born

As you may have heard, today's absurd right-wing brouhaha focuses on the fact that Nancy Pelosi wore a head scarf when she visited Syria. The implication being tossed around on the conservative blogs is that Pelosi is some kind of traitor for "kowtowing" to the Islamists in this way--never mind the fact that photos of everyone from Laura Bush to Condoleezza Rice wearing head scarfs are being gleefully posted on the left-wing blogs in response.

When the Rethugs promote attacks on liberals that seem comically transparent like this one, I think that what we are witnessing may be the conscious and deliberate creation of an urban legend, to be nurtured and transmitted via email and website among the least-informed, most gullible, and most ideologically blinkered among us.

I've written before about the wonderful website, which is devoted to tracking and investigating urban legends, especially those that fly around the Internet. If you visit the site regularly, you quickly discover that one of the most popular categories of viral emails is right-wing propaganda, often with little or no basis in fact. Once in a great while this stuff makes it into the mainstream media; the phony picture of John Kerry at an antiwar rally with Jane Fonda that was circulated in 2004 was an example. But most of it remains under the radar, titillating the true believers, reinforcing their world-view, and probably sucking in quite a few of the innocent and unwary.

Here's a current example that is typical--a supposedly amusing essay about American attitudes, falsely attributed to Jay Leno, that morphs midway through into a rant in defense of George Bush. And here's another--a collection of vicious quotations, mostly phony, attributed to Hillary Clinton (or "the HildaBeast," as the email charmingly calls her).

What the good folks who run don't write about--and would probably be very difficult to determine with any certainty--is the possibility that political operatives are deliberately and knowingly creating and circulating lies (or gross factual distortions) in the form of "funny" or "colorful" or "amazing" email messages that people send to their friends and encourage them to pass along.

Because this stuff is considered part of "folk culture" rather than a product of the media, and because the political messages are mixed in with all kinds of miscellaneous wacky non-political stuff, from weird rumors about products to funny stories about celebrities, it gets no attention from pundits, reporters, or others who might try to debunk politically-motivated lies in television campaign ads or candidates' speeches.

A propaganda campaign built around "grass-roots" right-wing email seems like just the kind of insidious sneak attack that Karl Rove or one of his acolytes might dream up.

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