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Movement Conservatism’s Misinformation Problem

James Joyner follows up on Conor Friedersdorf’s criticism of the incredibly poor coverage of the Hagel confirmation process in a much of the conservative media:

I expect partisan media outlets to be partisan. But it’s one thing to be overly skeptical of the claims being made by one’s opponents and overly deferential to those made by those on your team; it’s quite another to simply ignore the facts on the ground.

The deeper problem here is that many of these outlets and writers don’t accept that the “facts on the ground” are the real facts, and so replace them with “facts” that are consistent with the party line or the ideological boundaries being enforced. In this other reality, Hagel wasn’t a mostly conventional internationalist with a few mild dissents on a handful of foreign policy issues and an increased and healthy post-Iraq skepticism about the dangers of military action. In the other reality, he was supposedly a vicious “anti-Israel” enabler of Iran and terrorist groups. Maybe some of the people promoting and repeating this nonsense knew that they were lying to their readers, but I suspect that many of them really believe these things to be true. Almost all of the anti-Hagel campaign was the work of propagandists that believed their own propaganda. As I said before, no one could take seriously the “Friends of Hamas” lie unless they had already swallowed a great many other lies about Hagel and what he believes. These other lies were and are routinely repeated by movement conservatives as if they were true, and presumably they will continue to be repeated in the years to come. It was these lies that led anti-Hagel movement conservatives to misunderstand what Hagel’s confirmation meant even when after recognized that it was not going to be stopped. Hagel’s opponents in conservative media weren’t just misinforming their readers. They were immersing themselves in misinformation and congratulating themselves on their keen insights into reality.

Movement conservatism’s misinformation problem doesn’t just come from sloppy reporting or a refusal to acknowledge inconvenient evidence, though these contribute to it, but mostly from relying on extremely bad assumptions on matters of policy. Opponents frequently described Hagel’s foreign policy views as being “to the left” of Obama’s, which is so inaccurate as to be absurd, but opponents accepted it as a mere observation. They started from the completely wrong assumption that Hagel is “hostile” to Israel when he isn’t, for example, which meant that they had already distorted their understanding of what he believes and represents beyond repair. Once they accepted such nonsense as irrefutable “fact,” all other evidence that contradicted this “fact” could be set aside.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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