The liars drone on

    Now that the latest manufactured right-wing freakout has been subsumed by reality – no, folks, Obama’s environmental agents are not using drones to spy on all-American farmers – let us recount this episode with the bemused disdain that it deserves.We’re well aware of how the conservative “media” gins up and exploits disinformation, for the reasons that need not be spelled out here yet again. Suffice it to say that there is a sizable audience for tall tales of anti-Obama paranoia. The “drone” story is a classic example, which is why it metastasized over a span of several weeks.By all accounts, the yarn began on May 29, when Nebraska’s congressional delegation queried the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of some ticked-off Nebraska farmers. Apparently these farmers didn’t like the fact that EPA inspectors flew small planes over the farmland, looking for possible evidence of water pollution.(By the way, the EPA has been flying these small planes for the past 10 years. The process began under the Bush administration. It’s a lot cheaper to scan for water pollution from the air – illegal manure dumping, stuff like that – than it is to dispatch the inspectors on foot.)The delegation complained to the EPA about the small planes. But within days, thanks to Twitter and a post on a conservative website, the planes had somehow morphed into drones. There was no empirical evidence whatsoever to suggest the use of drones, but, as we know, evidence is a quaint concept of the previous century. If somebody out there simply asserts that Obama’s EPA is using drones, then drones it is. Naturally, on June 1, somebody on Fox News said “they’re drones.”By June 4, I had logged a dozen emails about these “drones.” Here’s one classic: “U pal are a disgrace to the ‘journalism,’ the way U keep ignoring what Barry Hussein is doing, like harassing farmers with his war drones, U should be reporting that,” and then he or she went on to invoke the Constitution by misquoting Thomas Paine. I ignored it. But then came Fox News, again, with this breathless story on June 5:”Republican lawmakers are demanding answers today after learning the Environmental Protection Agency has been using aerial spy drones to spy on cattle ranchers.”Note the way Fox apparatchik Megyn Kelly phrased that sentence, framing it as a given that the drones were real. Then she added: “These are the same drones we use to track down al Qaeda terrorists, flying over Nebraska and Iowa.”Naturally, she didn’t bother to cite any source to support her (dis)information. Sources are for sissies. What matters is the assertion. And the lie about the drones was a perfect two-fer: It was a way to taint Obama’s overseas successes in the war on terror, by suggesting that he was using drones on real Americans at home; and it was yet another way to paint Obama as a domestic tyrant, by conjuring fresh evidence of socialist overreach.Kelly’s on-air lie was dutifully echoed that same day, in a lie on the Fox News website. The headline: “Why is the EPA Spying on Cattle Ranchers in Neb and Iowa?” The lie was then repeated again on the Fox Business Network, where some in-house talking head called the story “shocking.”Meanwhile, as more conservative websites (including, naturally, The Daily Caller) picked up the drone lie and spun it as truth, more credulous Republicans got into the act. That was a big help to the conservative outlets, which then recycled the (non)story by attributing it to the lawmakers. After all, if lawmakers are complaining about drones, then it must be news. And once something is news, lawmakers can cite “press reports” as the basis for their ire.Which is what happened in this episode. One Nebraska congressman cited “press reports” about how the EPA was “using military-style drone planes to secretly observe livestock operations.” And a Montana chimed in: “The Obama administration has, once again, stepped way over the line.”As recently as last Friday, the Fox News website was still at it: “Republican senator Mike Johanns, who is from Nebraska, has introduced a new bill that would ban the use of aerial drones by the EPA, this after recent revelations that the agency is using unmanned aircraft…” (I love that word “revelations.”)Anyway, lies being more resilient than truth, it took several weeks for the EPA to convince Fox and its disinformation allies that the drone yarn had no basis in factual reality. Fox (to its credit) has since felt compelled several times to correct its reports. Naturally, those viewers and website consumers who are conditioned to think the worst of Obama will continue to believe the lie, but perhaps everyone else will realize that the so-called drones are actually the same small planes that EPA pollution inspectors have been flying since the Bush era.By the way, here’s the item that ran Monday on the Fox website: “Megyn Kelly provided a clarification on this story, saying, ‘We identified and discussed the aircraft as being unmanned drones. In fact, the EPA is flying these missions and taking pictures from manned aircraft. We apologize for the confusion.”A “clarification” for the “confusion?”Worse yet, the “clarification” was dated “July 18.”Keep trying, Fox.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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