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Movement Conservatism’s Misinformation Problem

James Joyner follows up [1] on Conor Friedersdorf’s criticism [2] 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.

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20 Comments To "Movement Conservatism’s Misinformation Problem"

#1 Comment By Brooklyn Blue Dog On February 28, 2013 @ 9:51 am

Here are the fundamentalist Christian chickens coming home to roost. When you are brought up in a religion that requires you to ignore scientific facts or explain them away in ways that make no sense in your heart of hearts, constructing your own reality is second nature. If, on the most basic question of life (your essential world view), you learn to explain the actual facts away as lies planted by the devil to deceive the un-faithful, then on lesser questions like politics how easy it must be to pick and choose from among the facts you will believe and those you won’t. Such a mindset produces a kind of “intellectualism” for lack of a better word that requires that facts be fit to ideology, rather than that an approach to problems be based on the facts as they are.

From this mindset, it’s really easy to believe, for example, that Iraq had WMDs when it did not, or that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. I think we should all be very, very wary about electing a party that has such a strong fundamentalist wing. (And it’s not just the Christians; from our vantage point here in Brooklyn it’s clear that the fundamentalist Jews are also switching over to the GOP, since they share its essential mindset and it’s super-hawkish position on Israel.)

#2 Comment By The Wet One On February 28, 2013 @ 9:51 am

Would it be fair to say that stupid is as stupid does, doesn’t quite cut it?

Maybe there’s an illness at work. Should a doctor be called?

#3 Comment By Matt On February 28, 2013 @ 9:55 am

Whether Hagel is a “conventional” internationalist or whether his dissents are “mild” are not facts at all, they are judgments. They may be wise judgments, but they are judgments.

#4 Comment By Daniel Larison On February 28, 2013 @ 9:59 am

We could quibble about how exactly to describe him, but describing him as almost the exact opposite of what he is represents a rejection of the the overwhelming majority of evidence about his record and the substitution of nonsense in its place. That’s the point.

#5 Comment By JasonG On February 28, 2013 @ 10:02 am

Blue Dog – what does what is reported in mainstream, establishment foreign policy conservative press have to do with Fundamentalist Christianity?

#6 Comment By SDS On February 28, 2013 @ 10:04 am

“They were immersing themselves in misinformation
and congratulating themselves on their keen insights
into reality.”

Good commentary; but I think you give “the propagandists” too much credit in assuming their sincerity. Surely some gullible newbies (Ayotte, et. al.) buy this crap; but the ones writing it generally are pitching a party line; no more or less than an advertising firm pushing their “healthy” products or a stock broker selling “AAA rated” securities; and cracking up after the stuff is sold to an ignorant buyer (or newbie Republican)…..
One thing these propagandist guys are not; and that’s STUPID….. They know about Goebbels, too…..

The buyers; well their intelligence is questionable….

#7 Comment By icarusr On February 28, 2013 @ 10:15 am

The problem with the Hagel nomination was that the lies, distortions, mischaracterisations and hostilities were not just the work of movement conservatives, though they were the loudest – they always are. There was Frum beating the drums – and, frankly, he is too critical of the Dumbos in Congress and in the Party for me to think that he was trying to curry favour. And it cannot be that they oppose Hagel only on policy, because of course the foreign policy choice of Obama got through no problem.

I think there is something at once deeper and simpler at work here. Hagel was being punished not for positions but for heresy. Frum’s joining the loonies can be explained only in these terms: on Iraq, and Bush’s legacy, he is a true believer; none of the neocons has yet come to terms with that legacy; dissent from within the ranks threatens to expose the cognitive dissonance in a way that outside attacks don’t; heretics and apostates have to be taken to the scaffold to avoid further cracks.

Plus, I suspect that the more intelligent ones knew exactly what Obama was doing, but like an addict, they could not help themselves. To lie.

#8 Comment By Brooklyn Blue Dog On February 28, 2013 @ 10:49 am


A very large component of movement conservatism is fundamentalist Christianity. Daniel’s commentary is about movement conservatism’s tendency to believe its own facts, rather than the actual facts on the ground. The movement conservative partisan press is a part and parcel of the larger “conservative” movement. That’s the connection.

#9 Comment By Michael Sheridan On February 28, 2013 @ 11:52 am

It is relatively simple. There are two reasons Hagel was opposed.

First, the decisions of President Obama must always be wrong and dangerous. Always. To admit that he ever makes a good decision would be to open the door to doubt about all his decisions.

Second, it is even more important to maintain this wilful attitude of rejection if the President appears to be making a choice that some might call conservative but that does not fit comfortably within the mainstream of Republican thought. The GOP party line must not only be the only line, it can never officially change, because that would be to admit error. If it does ever unofficially change, it can only be in the “We have always been at war with Eastasia” sense, completely unlike the open criticism Hagel is on record as having made of some past decisions of a Republican President, backed by the Republicans then in Congress. A Hagel who was welcomed as SoD would have been truly dangerous to the GOP, as his accepted existence would have legitimized dissent.

#10 Comment By scottinnj On February 28, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

I thought it has been pretty conclusively determed that facts have a liberal bias.

#11 Comment By bayesian On February 28, 2013 @ 12:33 pm


Good point about Frum, and of course Dr. Larison and many others have pointed out (though admittedly not in this post) how Kerry sailed through. I pay little attention to Frum (never really did), but I have to wonder if he still at some level expects/hopes to rejoin a hypothetical future Rep. mainstream.

(An unknowable about Kerry is what would have happened if it had been clear when Kerry was first nominated that Brown wasn’t going to recontest the seat; by the time that was clear, it might have been too late to pivot).

I do think you’re right that some level of “kill the apikoros” applies here. I wonder what would have happened in the alternate reality where Obama had appointed Powell (who also endorse him in 2008) for SecDef instead? Might have been interesting to watch.

#12 Comment By sglover On February 28, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

“Here are the fundamentalist Christian chickens coming home to roost. ”

I’m pretty far left myself, but casually ascribing right-wing misinformation to fundamentalist Christianity seems to me to be pretty close to the kind of self-delusion that Mr. Larison is writing about. Since Obama got elected I have often been in the distressing position of watching left/liberal friends shrug off Dem policies that would have made them livid, had they been enacted by the Bush-Cheney gangster syndicate. Their responses were especially pathetic when Obama decided to wade in Libya on a whim. My believing Dem friends were either bored by or dismissive of any mention of general principles (i.e., maybe, just maybe, we don’t want presidents — even Dem presidents! — launching wars by decree?). The usual response was either a quick change of subject, or a bray about how no **Americans** were killed.

Doublethink is more widespread among believing Republicans, but believing that they have a monopoly on it, or that it stems from just a single faction in their camp, is a delusion.

#13 Comment By Jim Evans On February 28, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

It is hard for many Republicans, particulary activists, to admit that Iraq was a huge blunder.

Hagel, while voting for the Iraq operation, subsequently changed his mind and opposed Iraq when Republican senators were under tremendous political pressure.

And any dissent from a “blank check for Israel” is also a problem for a number of Republicans.

To the author’s point: A segment of Republicans can’t handle the facts if they contradict the basic assumptions of ideology.

Sadly, ther is truth in those words, but it also goes for Democrats, too.

#14 Comment By James Canning On February 28, 2013 @ 1:25 pm

Jim Evans – – It must be fair to say that some of those who voted in favor of a possible military action in Iraq, did not think this endorsed an illegal invasion based on knowingly false “evidence”.

#15 Comment By Michael Sheridan On February 28, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

Previous posters have written regarding the hypocrisy of some (many) Democrats when it comes to decisions made from the Oval Office that they would have decried coming from a Republican President. They are correct, of course. However, the large number of Democrats who do not approve have not been written out of the Democratic Party. Now, as in Will Rogers’ day, the Democrats are simply not that organized. With any luck, they never will be.

#16 Comment By Geoff Guth On February 28, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

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.

This is really the problem of the two party dichotomy we have going on in this country today. Everything gets subsumed into a false left-right straight-jacket.

What exactly is a “leftist” foreign policy? A belief that the workers will rise up and take over the means of production leading to a withering of the state everywhere in the world? That the US will support workers’ revolutions against corrupt bourgeois and aristocratic elites? The very word “left” is meaningless when it comes to many political arenas, but most especially when it comes to foreign policy.

There are several approaches to foreign policy out there, of which the neoconservative views embraced by the GOP and the slightly more internationalist turn of the Obama administration are but two. Trying to map that range on to the highly partisan politics we have today is a fool’s errand.

#17 Comment By Jim Evans On February 28, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

James Canning wrote: “Jim Evans – – It must be fair to say that some of those who voted in favor of a possible military action in Iraq, did not think this endorsed an illegal invasion based on knowingly false ‘evidence’.”

Yes. I’m one of those who supported the Iraq invasion based on what was told to the American People.

I regret that support… it was a blunder.

#18 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 28, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

This had *nothing* to do with Christianity, in that the accusations and motivations violated fundamental Christian tenets and morality.

Number one, not to bear false witness.

Further on, violation of Christian teaching on reconciliation and not wielding the sword, even going so far as violating Augustinian Just War Theory.

The source of the lies I saw was from the secular neocons, who aren’t even nominally Christian. Moreover, they insincerely accused Hagel of not being sufficiently deferential to homosexuality, clear hypocrisy since they never advocated a whit about that before.

Hagel’s stances are entirely mainstream within all churches which aren’t explicitly anti-war and invoke Just War Theory, excluding such minority churches as Anabaptists, Amish, Mennonites, Quakers etc.

#19 Comment By Cliff On February 28, 2013 @ 7:35 pm

I think all parts of politics have been infected by what I call “economystical thinking” (because it’s commonly seen in economists). That’s when you begin with your desired conclusion and construct, with the aid of strategic blindness and invention, an argument that confirms it. What accounts for the popularity of this style of “thought”? The movers-and-shakers have all taken economics and caught it there, like a disease. Only when the last marketing prof is strangled with the guts of the last economist will our public debate begin to recover.

#20 Comment By MikeS On February 28, 2013 @ 11:40 pm

The base of the Republican Party is the fundamentalist religious demographic, which is definitionally delusional or obscurantist. When this mindset turns its attention to politics, you get the love of misinformation that you describe in this article. It’s not a bug, but a feature, given the dominant constituency.