Exposing a lie on a grander scale

EXPOSING A LIE ON A GRANDER SCALE…. The “award” for the Lie of the Week has some competition, but I have a favorite. Betsy McCaughey, a staffer at a conservative think tank who also used to be a Republican Lt. Gov. of New York, went after the economic stimulus plan on Monday, arguing that it would create a “new bureaucracy” to “monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective.”

None of this is even remotely true, but the claim quickly ricocheted through conservative media outlets.

Part of the problem, though, is that those spreading the lie — Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, et al — have an impressive megaphone and echo chamber. I know several bloggers and online outlets that addressed the issue, but we have a less imposing reach. It was far more likely for the typical American to hear the lie than the truth.

To be fair, CNN’s senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, did a fact-check segment on McCaughey’s claims and found, not surprisingly, that the argument is false. But I’m afraid the segment wasn’t very good — CNN anchor Kiran Chetry went out of her way to suggest McCaughey’s demonstrably dishonest claim might be true (even though it’s not) because something might happen in the future (even though it won’t) that’s unrelated to the legislation at hand.

Again, the typical U.S. news consumer can easily get confused. On the one hand we have biased outlets on the right repeating blatant lies. On the other hand we have neutral outlets hedging on what may or may not be true, when there’s an objective reality staring them straight in the face.

Enter Keith Olbermann, who not only had a devastating segment on this last night, setting the record straight, he did so with a reach that blog posts can’t have. I don’t doubt that the right will whine that Olbermann isn’t objective enough, but just watch the segment — he explains the claim, explains why it’s false, and then offers policy and historical context. That’s what a news consumer needs because it’s true. Reality may have a well-known liberal bias, but so be it. The right’s lying, and Olbermann called them on it on national television. Somebody has to.

Indeed, Ezra reminds us this afternoon that it’s a reminder of what makes media professionals like Olbermann and Rachel Maddow important: “Will Olbermann’s segment on McCaughey end her relevance? Probably not. But it — along with the blog posts, and inevitable columns — will be part of what any CNN producer sees if he wants to run a segment on McCaughey the next morning. It will be part of what an NPR editor reads when she’s researching a show. None of this progressive infrastructure existed in 1994…. This time, such arguments will not go unchallenged. That doesn’t mean they will disappear. McCaughey’s arguments are already taking root in the fertile swamp of talk radio. But it will be much harder for such bits of disingenuous nonsense to cement themselves in the center. And by the same token, it will be much easier for liberals to make, and disseminate, their own arguments.”