Anatomy of a lie

    When ideologues pose as journalists, the results are often disastrous. They’re typically allergic to actual facts, preferring instead to concoct sham facts to support their ideology. Reality-based reporting is basically an alien concept.

    For instance, today’s conservatives reflexively hate the EPA, the federal environmental agency that Republican Richard Nixon signed into law, the same agency that has demonstrably cleaned improved the quality of our air and water these past 40 years. (The EPA has been verbaly derided by the Republican debate audiences.) To serve their hatred, conservative media outlets will spread whatever lies they deem necessary.Which brings us to the faux freakout that was orchestrated this week by The Daily Caller and subsequently marketed to the credulous masses by Fox News (of course) as well as others in the conservative echo chamber. In the annals of disinformation, this episode was a beaut. Mark Twain, who reputedly said that a lie can circle the globe before the truth has a chance to put its shoes on, would’ve had a field day with this one.Basically, The Daily Caller (a brainchild of the bowtied Tucker Carlson) announced on Monday that the EPA, in a planned crackdown on greenhouse gases, intends to hire 230,000 new workers at a cost to taxpayers of $1 billion. Those are the sham facts. According to the actual facts, the EPA is seeking to selectively enforce the greenhouse gas rules – focusing only on the largest polluters – so that it won’t have to hire anybody new, or cost the taxpayers any additional money.In other words, the empirical truth is precisely the opposite of what was “reported.” As ex-Bush speechwriter and reality-based conservative commentator David Frum remarked yesterday, the viral Daily Caller story “doesn’t have a whiff of plausibility.”Surely you don’t have to ask why the Caller got it so wrong. One need only examine how it happened to glimpse the pathology in action.The EPA, in a bid to save money and manpower, wants to police only the biggest greenhouse gas polluters – roughly 15,000 industrial sources – and leave the smaller sources (including millions of small businesses) alone. The EPA has floated this proposal in a federal court brief. Earlier this month, the Department of Justice weighed in with its own court brief, supporting the EPA. The Justice lawyers said that the EPA plan was eminently sensible, because if the agency had to enforce every greenhouse gas source in America, “hiring the 230,000 full-time employes necessary…would result in an increase in the Title V administration costs of $21 billion per year.”The Caller, having spotted that passage in the court papers, somehow came up with a story announcing that the EPA is “asking for taxpayers to shoulder the burden of up to 230,000 new bureaucrats – at a cost of $21 billion – to attempt to implement the (greenhouse) rules.” Somehow, the Caller left out the part about how the Justice lawyers had merely posited a worst-case scenario, a scenario that the EPA was intent on avoiding. But, of course, if the Caller had cognitively processed the actual facts, there would have been no story.Prior to posting the article, some traditional journalistic skepticism would have helped as well. For instance, how could it possibly be plausible, given the current political mood and current fiscal restraints, that the EPA would seek to expand its workforce by a factor of 13 (from its current 17,000 employes), and nearly triple its annual budget (from the current $8.7 billion)? Even if the Caller brain trust preferred to willfully misread the English language in the court briefs, wouldn’t those implausible statistics, and the reality of a politically risk-averse White House, prompt any rationalist to hit the pause button?But we’re not dealing here with rationalists. Fox News, naturally, spread the lie in its trademark style; on Tuesday, Gretchen Carlson said on the air: “You’re looking at the EPA and guess what?…They’re now going to hire 230,000 new employes to keep up with all the paperwork.”So, let’s review: First came the DOJ’s worst-case hypothetical, which the EPA didn’t want anyway. Then came the Caller story, which said the EPA wanted it. Then came Fox News, which said that the EPA is already in the process of doing it.     Worse yet, even after the lie was exposed, the Caller’s editor stood by the original report. His argument: “The EPA is well known for expanding its reach,” and that “the suggestion that the EPA – this EPA in particular – is going to court to limit its own growth is the funniest thing I’ve seen since Nancy Grace’s nipple-slip.” Tasteless allusion aside, what we have here is proof that ideological beliefs are more important than empirical facts.Ah yes, facts. If these ideologues truly intend to pose as journalists, they should at least get some traditional basic training – like covering local cops for awhile, reading traffic accident reports, writing up City Council meetings, the meat and potato stuff that once was de rigueur. But since that will never happen, not in this day and age, David Frum suggests that the ideologues should at least “try to stick with boring old facts” – because this sordid episode demonstrates, yet again, that the “agenda-driven media has degraded public discourse on serious matters, and needless polarized the American public.” True that.     ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal