Tom Schaller: The right systematically manufactures bogus news

If you haven't heard of Jonathan Gruber, an architect of the Affordable Care Act whose testimony about transparency in passing Obamacare has gone viral, expect a rash of new stories about him.

Why? Because as of late last Friday afternoon — when a Republican-led House committee admitted that disgraceful Republicans in Congress wasted two years and millions of taxpayer dollars investigating a Benghazi scandal largely of their own invention — conservatives desperately need to divert America's attention.


If not Mr. Gruber, they'll find some other diversion or, if necessary, create one out of whole cloth. Because they know enough gullible Americans will swallow the next bogus story fed to them as voraciously as they did Benghazi.

By now, the right's pattern of mendacious manipulation of the political media — the birther, ACORN, Shirley Sherrod and IRS "scandals," plus Benghazi — ought to be abundantly clear. And save me the false equivalency claims about how NPR or MSNBC counterbalances Fox News and conservative talk radio; this is not about news commentary.

Rather, this is about the systematic manufacturing of bogus stories that dominate the national conversation in the first place. For this phenomenon, there is no balance: Suckers' news, as I call it, emanates almost exclusively from the right.

In the case of Shirley Sherrod, the late Andrew Breitbart published a selectively-edited videotape of an address given by Ms. Sherrod in which she recalls having to rethink her pre-existing assumption that a poor white farmer would automatically enjoy advantages black farmers might not.

Although her speech was about the colorblind nature of poverty, that didn't prevent the scurrilous Mr. Breitbart from distorting her remarks to draw eyeballs to his website and create a bogus firestorm so hot the Obama administration rashly removed Ms. Sherrod from her federal job before later apologizing and offering to re-hire her.

Then there's the absurdist "reporting" by self-styled conservative muckraker James O'Keefe. Costumed as a pimp and with a hidden camera in tow, Mr. O'Keefe secretly videotaped an interview with ACORN employees and then mendaciously edited their responses to create the impression that organization subsidized prostitution.

Soon enough, the feds yanked ACORN's funding — which, as I calculated in a previous column, amounts to less than 60 seconds' worth of federal spending during the course of a 365-day fiscal year. But to the conservative media echo chamber, Mr. O'Keefe had exposed massive, budget-crippling (and yet again: race-motivated) fraud.

The IRS scandal? Yes, the IRS investigated whether some conservative groups may have wrongly claimed tax-exempt status as non-profits. But again, the initially-reported story was only half true: The IRS investigated liberal political groups, too.

Before dismissing these as merely examples of rumors traveling halfway around the world before the truth can lace its shoes, notice there are no liberal equivalents to Messrs. O'Keefe or Breitbart. And unlike the Benghazi-obsessed Republicans, Democrats never formed multiple congressional committees to investigate the 60 deaths that resulted from 13 separate attacks on U.S. embassies or consulates during the Bush Administration.

Notice, too, that the primary political complaint of Benghazi-obsessed conservatives was that the tragic death of four American diplomats in Libya was intentionally covered up by Hillary Clinton's State Department and top Obama administration officials until after the 2012 election. So when did House Republicans release their Benghazi mea culpa report?

Late on a Friday night, two weeks after the 2014 midterms. How perfect.

After being suckered for two years into believing in the Benghazi non-story, perhaps it's time for some folks to pause at least a few minutes to ask themselves which stories or national conversations are being shelved in favor of suckers' news and commentary.

They might wonder, for example, how come they aren't familiar with these rarely-reported percentages: 9.8, 8.8, 8.4, 6.8, 4.1 and 2.9 percent. Those are — in order — the federal budgets deficits, as a share of GDP, during the first six years of the Obama administration.

But it's difficult to have a serious conversation about federal deficits with the steady, two-year drumbeat of Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi echoing in your ears. Mercifully, that noise should finally end — just in time for the Gruber, Gruber, Gruber throng to commence.


Suckers beware.

Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears every other Wednesday. His email is Twitter: @schaller67.