THE BARE MINIMUM FOR PUBLIC DISCOURSE…. I noticed the cover story in the last issue of Newsweek had a five-word headline over a photo of 9/11 devastation: “A Mosque at Ground Zero?” Of those five words, four are wrong — it’s not a mosque, and it’s not “at” Ground Zero. American news consumers who only casually keep up on current events very likely walked by Newsweek at the check-out aisle and started to form an opinion, unaware that the only accurate word in the headline was “a.”

It’s a reminder of one of the most painful aspects of our discourse: we’re constantly having debates over issues that exist only in the imagination of deceptive conservative hacks, who happen to excel at propaganda. There are, for example, no “death panels.” “Terror babies” don’t exist. There’s no such thing as a “death tax.”

And as Keith Olbermann explained well last night, there’s no such thing as the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

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I realize that Olbermann’s special comments don’t resonate with everyone. But even if you don’t find his analysis especially compelling, pay particular attention to his description of the facts in the case of Park51 — it’s not at Ground Zero, it’s not a mosque, and even characterizing it as two blocks away is generous. The community won’t be “in the shadow” of Ground Zero; it won’t even be visible from Ground Zero. Hell, developers aren’t even calling it the Cordoba House anymore, in the hopes that a more generic name — Park51 — will set minds at ease.

Everything about this debate is largely a sham, cooked up by conservatives who hope to pit Americans against each other in advance of an election cycle.

The bare minimum of a sensible, constructive public discourse is a base of reality to build upon. At this point, we’re not even close.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.