by Doctor Science
-- isn't knowledge, I mean.
One of the great frustrations I have in talking with people who get most of their information from the Right Wing Media (the Limbaugh-Fox News-Drudge axis) is that so much of what they know is untrue. Stories, data, ideas get repeated over and over, reflected in their Hall of Mirrors, but that has nothing to do with whether they're true. It's memes all the way down.
Here's an example. On October 11, Sean Hannity' segment on Fox News featured 3 couples telling how Obamacare had hurt them. One couple own a construction company, and said they've had to cut back employees and hours because of Obamacare. The other two couples said their Blue Cross policies was being terminated because of Obamacare -- though Obama had promised that Americans would be able to keep our existing insurance. They'd also heard that the replacement policies they could now get would raise their costs, or would force them to pay for coverage they don't need.
These are all the kind of Obamacare problems conservative commenters here have talked about, so I figure this is part of basic knowledge in RWM-land.
Eric Stern, a reporter at Salon who used to work for Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, decided to do some fact-checking. He called Hannity's guests up, and found:
- The construction company owners only have 4 employees, so Obamacare actually has no effect on them.
- One of the Blue Cross couples is currently paying about $13,200 a year for a policy that doesn't cover all their family members, because one has a pre-existing condition. Covering the whole family would probably come to $20,000/year. They haven't been to healthcare.gov, but Stern used the ACA calculator to estimate that they could now get a policy for the whole family for $7,600/year.
- The other couple is paying about $10,000/year. Their insurance agent told them that an ACA-compliant plan would be 50-75% more expensive -- but Stern used healthcare.gov to find a plan that costs at most $3700.
I don’t doubt that these six individuals believe that Obamacare is a disaster; but none of them had even visited the insurance exchange. And some of them appear to have taken actions ([the construction owner], for example) based on a general pessimistic belief about Obamacare. He’s certainly entitled to do so, but Hannity is not entitled to point to [the owner]’s behavior as an “Obamacare train wreck story” and maintain any credibility that he might have as a journalist.Stern is too kind to Hannity: Hannity doesn't even deserve to get credit for being a *serious person*, journalism has nothing to do with it.
Howard Kurtz is supposed to be the media critic at Fox News, and he responded to Stern's reporting by saying:
KURTZ: Now Sean Hannity is an opinion guy, no question about it. So he’s not in the same category. But could it be said that various news outlets were pushing their own agenda during this 16-day debacle?[quote is from Erik Wemple at the Washington Post; I haven't been able to find the MediaBuzz segment in question.]
[Mary Katharine] HAM: Well, I think that’s what happens. And, frankly, I think the right feels that because most of the mainstream media is leaning left, and I think pretty obviously so during this, that it is their duty to push this other side and to point out that when the president shuts down parks and puts priority on certain things that maybe he doesn’t need to put priority on, shutting down to hurt people, that that is an important story that the media is missing.
Kurtz and his colleague just pivoted away from the question of why Hannity's story about "ordinary Americans hurt by Obamacare" was completely untrue. Instead, they swung over to "the rest of the media is biased left, so we have a duty to balance right" and to repeat the meme that Obama was "shutting down to hurt people" -- a meme that's been repeated in the comments here.
Unlike Stern, I don't think Hannity was lying any more than his guests were. He *knows*, because he's inside the RWM mirrormaze, that Obamacare hurts ordinary Americans. He finds Americans who say they've been hurt -- which they know because they're *also* inside the mirrormaze. He doesn't have to check their stories any more than they have to check their own, by going to the calculator or using non-RWM sources.
This was all performance, not reporting. Fox News is presenting memes, not information.
I'm not saying that everything the RWM says is a lie -- a great deal of it is bullshit, in Frankfurt's sense: like advertising, it is intended to create an impression without regard to truth or falsity. It is not *expected* to be factually true, any more than we actually *expect* a battery-powered bunny to keep going forever.
The upshot is that it becomes extremely difficult to have a conversation about health care reform, among many other topics, between people who depend on RWM and the rest of us. It's exhausting and derailing to have to fact-check every single statement to find out what grade of lies/bullshit/buried truth it might be.
For this discussion, I'd like to try an experiment. I'm going to put possible info sources in three groups:
- Left-Wing Media: New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Monthly, Mother Jones, New Yorker, Salon, Huffington Post, Al-Jazeera.
- Centrist Media: Christian Science Monitor, BBC, The Hill, Roll Call, local newspapers and TV stations, scientific literature.
- Right-Wing Media: Fox News, Wall Street Journal, National Review, Washington Times, Washington Examiner
Let's see what happens.
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