[By Nic Lindh on Monday, 03 November 2003]
Al Franken strikes again with Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Written in a breezy, easy-to-read style, it has some really funny moments, but in the end it made me really, really depressed. The fact that a book like this needed to be written should make anybody with an interest in democracy hang their heads. It should also make the people toiling in news rooms across the country take a long, hard look at their professional mission.
Basically, according to Mr. Franken, the set up works like this: There’s a really nutty bunch of blowhards whose mission in life is to twist the truth in egregious ways according to their scary Weltanschauung. After they put their memes into the media sphere, the less nutty, more mainstream media pick up on these memes and perpetrate them. This doesn’t mean that the more mainstream media have an agenda, per se, but more that they are too lazy and or incompetent to do their fact checking properly. And the results are what you ingest in the media every day.
Mr. Franken gives a bunch of examples of this process in action, and they will make you cringe.
But it gets worse. According to Mr. Franken, the White House is actively involved in this process. The most gratuitous example is during the transition period when the new staff moved into the White House, and there were reports of up to $200,000 worth of vandalization that the previous Clinton staff had perpetrated on the property. Turns out this was completely invented. You have to wonder what kind of people you’re dealing with who would invent something so pointless and gratuitous just to score easy points.
In the unbelievable scum-bucket category also falls a campaign technique called push polling. Essentially what people with the ethics of pond scum do is call voters in contested areas and pretend to be an independent polling organization, then ask the voters things like, “If you knew that candidate X had an illegitimate Black child, would that make you less likely to vote for him?” The beauty of this is that you put out the FUD, but technically your hands are clean.
There’s a lot of really stomach-churning material like that in the book.
The big take-away for me personally is that the book reinforces Marshall McLuhan’s idea that we are now living in a post-literate society. There’s just way too much information around us, and it’s coming at us so quickly that it becomes increasingly difficult to be literate, in the sense of using logic and structure, to process the information. Thus we end up with a mythology taking the place of reason, and in this case the biggest myth makers belong to the crackpot right wing.
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them is a definite must-read.