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Does Obama have a messaging problem, or does the right-wing media have a lying problem?

I’m getting tired of the media noting things like that the majority of Americans think Obama raised their taxes (instead of what he really did, which was cut them) and then concluding that it is Obama’s fault because he hasn’t been very good at messaging. Isn’t it the media’s job to report news like this?

Not only are the media blaming Obama for something that is their own fault, but they are choosing to ignore the fact that Obama has been the subject of a relentless and well funded right-wing propaganda campaign to discredit everything he does.

Conservative Andrew Sullivan has an excellent example of just one of the “Big Lie” propaganda campaigns being waged against our president. In Sullivan’s example, Jonah Goldberg takes one sentence from a statement by Obama out of context, reverses its meaning, and claims that Obama does not believe in American exceptionalism. Even though if you read the full quote, he clearly believes in American exceptionalism and actively defends and promotes it.

Never mind that your average Tea Party member probably can’t even tell you what American exceptionalism is, but I guess if Obama doesn’t believe in it then he must be anti-American.

Then the National Review picks it up and broadcasts the lie.

Forbes magazine then publishes an unabashed hit piece on Obama, and in it they repeat the lie, claiming that Obama himself said he doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism. Forbes then takes an interesting step, and doubles down on the lie in a separate article, stating “Obama may be the first U.S. president to lack faith in our special history, our special spirit and our special mission in the world.”

Then The Washington Times repeats the same lie, taking it one step further by (unfavorably) comparing Obama to (the sainted) Reagan.

The list grows longer, all taking the same exact sentence out of context. The National Review repeats the lie again. The Washington Examiner repeats the lie verbatim. Then conservative Charles Krauthammer “Blasts Obama for Rejecting American Exceptionalism“.

As Sullivan sums it up:

What’s especially remarkable about this hackery – and there are numerous other examples – is that these conservative authors don’t just egregiously misrepresent the president’s actual position. It’s that all of them actually cite, as evidence, an out of context line from the very speech that proves their analysis is wrong.

How can you fight an intense propaganda campaign like this? You can’t. If you try to deny the lie, it just keeps it in the public mind and makes even more people believe it. And besides, if that smear doesn’t work, then they will just come up with another smear and repeat it, and another one, ad nauseum …

For example, take conservatives who scream about out-of-control government spending on social programs like Medicare. But if you actually pass reform that attempts to cut Medicare costs, then they scream about “death panels”. It doesn’t matter if there are no death panels; if you repeat propaganda often enough some people will believe it. They are still talking about death panels, even though PolitiFact rated it their “Lie of the Year“.

Here’s an even simpler and more graphic example of how this works. On Monday, Rush Limbaugh spent his entire show talking about the “Twinkie diet” where a nutrition professor, as an experiment, lost 27 pounds while still eating junk food (including Twinkies). Even in a simple case like this, Limbaugh can’t keep to reality. He says “A nutrition professor lost 27 pounds eating nothing but Twinkies.” and “All he did was eat Twinkies. When he got tired of Twinkies he went and got some Little Debbie stuff and then some other Hostess Cakes. He ate nothing but desert essentially and lost 27 pounds”.

However, if you actually read the article, the professor says that in addition to junk food, he took a multi-vitamin pill, drank a protein shake, avoided meat, drank diet sodas, and ate vegetables every day. Hardly “nothing but Twinkies”. What he was trying to demonstrate is that the kind of calories you consume is less important than the simple math of consuming less calories than you burn though physical activity.

But not only does Limbaugh get the story wrong, but he turns it into an attack on liberals and Michelle Obama:

What have I told you about diet and exercise? Exercise is irrelevant. … “How do you know all this?” One of the reasons I know what I know is that I know liberals, and I know liberals lie, and if Michelle Obama’s gonna be out there ripping into “food desserts” and saying, “This is why people are fat,” I know it’s not true. “Rush, do you really believe that? It’s that simple to you, liberals lie?” Yes, it is, folks. Once you learn that, once you come to grips with that, once you accept that, the rest is easy. Very, very simple.

Limbaugh lies about the facts, jumps to unrelated conclusions (“exercise is irrelevant”), and then attacks the first lady and tries to use his lie to prove that liberals lie.

If you still don’t believe that there are concerted efforts to influence public opinion, I have one last example. A former head of communications for a major health insurance company is releasing a book today that explains in detail “how the insurance industry relied on professional public relations firms and a wide network of news outlets and conservative think tanks to move public opinion against progressive reforms like the public option and ensure that the health law did not interfere with its profits.”

If you have enough money it is easy to buy public opinion and the media. But somehow, not getting the truth out is Obama’s fault because he has a “messaging problem”. There is no messaging problem — you are hearing exactly the message that the corporate-owned media wants you to hear.



  1. Bruno wrote:

    the right-wing media have a lying problem

    PS ‘media’ is a plural

    it is the plural of ‘medium’

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 5:12 am | Permalink
  2. ebdoug wrote:

    As I said before, all health insurance in NYS was raised $100 per month per person to defeat health care reform. It was stright out stealing from us for the sake of their profit.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:19 am | Permalink
  3. Jeff wrote:

    In Al Franken’s book “Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them,” Franken talks about going to the funeral for Paul Wellstone and how the media distorted that event in their coverage. During one of the eulogies, a member of the deceased’s family made a comment that was mildly political. In a service that lasted over an hour, it was this one comment that the media picked up on and used to claim that the entire funeral was a political rally.

    Limbaugh and other right-wing media-heads took that five second clip, added applause from a different clip, and used this as the only example to help perpetuate the rumor that this was a partisan political event.

    Just another example of the lengths that the Right will go to, even distorting the funeral of a local politician, in order to achieve their ends. So sad.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 7:34 am | Permalink
  4. jonah wrote:

    Certainly the latter is a bigger issue than the former. Obama does need to improve his messaging though and he could use that to reduce the effects of the lies the extreme right spreads about him and get more people to trust him. For one thing he should gather facts before offering his opinion eg shirley sherrod and prof gates. While I’m no political expert, I for one would like him to make use of his intelligence and actually implement meaningful changes instead of simply trying to pass legislation. This is no time for austerity and to reduce the deficit. Instead he should try to reallocate federal funds to areas where they would be more productive like science and research and educating the unemployed so they don’t lose their skills. For some reason I feel he hasn’t been creative enough in what he has done and if is he may gain some respect from the middle, enough respect to stop watching fox and start trusting him.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 7:45 am | Permalink
  5. patriotsgt wrote:

    Good call Jonah, I’d have to agree with you.

    Isn’t it ironic that Obama, billed as a great communicator, is less understood then Bush, who was labled as an illiterate. (liking or disliking aside)

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 8:03 am | Permalink
  6. ThatGuy wrote:

    Bush never really tried to do anything as complex as Obama though, at least not that I remember. Healthcare and fixing the economy are extremely complicated, both to do and to explain. Especially when people are distorting what he is trying to do and how he is going about it.

    The methods of combatting terrorism are complex too, yes, but explaining the overall idea is extremely easy. You calculate success by how many people you capture, elections that take place, even by comparative body count. The metrics are so much easier.

    Think, for a moment, of how the War on Terror was billed. Think of the explanation we were given for why we were attacked on 9/11. We were hit because of our freedoms. Well, sort of, maybe. But that was the narrative. Our support for Israel, involvement in the Gulf War and stationing troops in the Middle East (particularly Saudi Arabia) were barely mentioned factors. But I submit to you that those were much more valid reasons than “they hate our freedoms”.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that fighting terrorism is a much easier thing to boil down to talking points and rallying cries than consumer protection, healthcare reform, or stimulating the economy. Yes, Obama could be doing a better job. Absolutely. But what complicated message did Bush ever need to get accross? Them, Bad. We, Good. And he still managed to screw up the simple messages quite a bit.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 8:49 am | Permalink
  7. If health care reform can be boiled down into simple albeit erroneously false terms that reflect it in a negative way, surely it can be simplified in ways which exemplify its positives.

    We have to face it: money talks, and the right-wing is backed by big money. They have a more effective system of public relations than the democratic party does by far. It’s a consequence of right-minded thinking. One of the things they have going for them is organized passion and rock-hard constitutions. Lefties are more apt to sit back and think about things, and are therefore simply more likely to get stampeded.

    Let’s just hope that someone out there is stepping back and thinking of something so clever that when the stampede comes, the elephants are outsmarted.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink
  8. il08 wrote:

    The right wing media has the ‘centrist’ news organizations so brow beaten that they are afraid to not repeat verbatim the lies of Fox and their like. Since when did facts become left wing and sources like CNN become pawns of the right? When was the last time you saw someone in the real media (RE: Not Fox) question an obvious lie? It never happens anymore.

    The problem is with the unless you want to spend the time to research every issue, there is no where in the media where you can get factual news reporting. I though PBS did a pretty good job and then this whole Juan Williams thing happens.

    Where can I find the truth????? Every day.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  9. starluna wrote:

    I do think that the media needs to do a better job of communicating about both the process and the content. I don’t think Obama’s communication skills are really the problem. He does not have control over the medium through which his message is conveyed. If we are only interested in or receiving 5 second sound bites, then that is all you will know. And unfortunately, accuracy and truths often take a bit longer than 5 seconds to convey.

    I will disagree with Chinagreenelvis that “lefties are more apt to sit back and think about things.” The implication is that they don’t act. That is so far from the truth it borders on stereotyping. In fact, left leaning and progressive individuals and groups have been very much involved in getting out the vote, organizing for social justice, unionizing workplaces, trying to get/improve public transit, advocating for sustainable development policies, working to reduce and remove the use of toxics in our environment, and providing assistance for and advocating on behalf of immigrants, prisoners, and the families of soldiers suffering from the effects of these wars and the multiple deployments.

    The problem is that you do not see this on your average 10 pm broadcast or cable news show. A bit less MSNBC and Fox and a bit more NewsHour, as well as a bit less of Rush and a bit more of Robert Siegel might open your eyes and mind to the variety of activism at both ends of the political spectrum that is happening out there.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 9:51 am | Permalink
  10. starluna wrote:

    IL08 – It was NPR that fired Juan Williams. Not PBS.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink
  11. Fred hamm wrote:

    It’s about time these tellers of lies be held accountable. I agree that Mitch and the boys has their priorities confused. Saving our country should be number one concern for all elected officials, not working to make sure Pres. Obama is a one term Pres. Until these assholes are voted out of office, politics will never change. Shame on them, and their “agenda”.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink
  12. Jason Ray wrote:

    Another example of the “lie broadcasting machine” were the recent comments that Obama’s trip to India was going to cost “$200 million dollars per day” and that he had “a fleet of 34 warships including an aircraft carrier” as part of his entourage. The source – an anonymous person in India picked up by a low grade reporter in India. Faux News and others didn’t even bother to check the facts – they just started screaming about the “incredible waste” at the top of their lungs.

    In addition to the virulent conservative marketing campaign, I think another part of the problem is, as Jon Stewart called it, “the 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator.” With the Internet and a 24 hours news cycle, false information gets picked up and rebroadcast before anyone has time to figure out if its real – and when combined with people that don’t CARE if it’s real, we get this level of hysterical hyperbole.

    We have to do something to get real facts and real news in front of the American public – I just don’t know how to make that happen. The worst thing that can happen is the other option – the creation of more Faux News organizations with deeply funded, deeply biased agendas trying to out-scream each other.

    I hope and pray that some news organization (CNN?) decides to make REALLY make “fair and balanced” a marketing tactic and that we can all support it when it happens. Any other thoughts?

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Permalink
  13. Patricia Andrews wrote:

    I agree that the 24/7 news cycle is a problem. we don’t seem to take the time to “reflect”, nor do we seem to have a broad-based capacity to use reasoning skills, nor do we have the discernment to recognize propaganda for what it is. Perhaps the real problem is a changing world view that chooses to recognize hype as reality without understanding the consequences of that choice.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink
  14. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    Just wanted to say that the Sullivan article was pure gold, thanks IK.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Permalink
  15. Laurie wrote:

    Frighten the sheeple whilst convincing them that you are the only one that can protect them. They will run right into the grave for you. Since the dawn of man it has happened just this way.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 8:04 am | Permalink
  16. starluna wrote:

    Laurie – what is sheeple?

    Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 9:15 am | Permalink
  17. patriotsgt wrote:

    I think she is saying sheep-like people.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  18. Iron Knee wrote:

    1032, I really enjoy reading Andrew Sullivan. I like the fact that he doesn’t fit into any simple category and is willing to form his own opinions, even when they don’t entirely fit his ideology (he is a self-identified conservative).

    Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink
  19. starluna wrote:

    So, “sheeple” is a derogatory term. I don’t think we should assume that regular people who repeat what they hear from what they believe are authoritative sources are necessarily stupid or lacking in cognitive capacity. The issue here is not what regular folks do on the basis of information they receive. The issue is the manipulative behavior on the part of institutions that should be authoritative sources of information.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  20. Winnie wrote:

    Just like Bush had to endure endless criticism from the left leaning media, Obama will have to endure endless criticism from the right leaning media.

    (“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” It pretty much is what it is…)

    It’s all part of being the leader of a powerful country that spends money like water and has clout throughout the world. We have a two party system and both sides are represented in the press. In the end, it’s all opinion, anyway, no matter whom you are listening to or watching.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  21. starluna wrote:

    Winnie – it isn’t all opinion, which is exactly the point of the discussion. You can have an opinion based on your own values and ethics. But you are not entitled to make up your own facts. And that is exactly the problem here. There are people out there peddling lies. Not everyone is doing it, but apparently the major sources of information, primarly TV news, are quite often misrepresenting or outright lying about facts.

    Indeed, the NH Supreme Court just released an opinion that basically stated that lying in political speech is perfectly legal (or at least not illegal). That is a serious problem.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Permalink
  22. Laurie wrote:

    I don’t necessarily consider ‘sheeple’ to be derogatory. I think sheep are wonderful creatures.
    It’s just that when humans follow the herd mindlessly (allowing themselves to be manipulated) it’s painful to witness & not generally in the best interest of the flock.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Permalink
  23. starluna wrote:

    I would be offended if someone accused me of having a particular opinion or viewpoint because I was mindlessly manipulated. There are people who are being manipulated out there on all sides of the political spectrum. But the first target shouldn’t necessarily be the people who are receiving false or misleading information. The target should be the liars.

    Once facts are established, then we need to have a conversation about values. I would prefer to assume that people, including those whose opinions differ widely from mine, probably have a certain set of values that they hold that undergird their views. Perhaps, through conversation, we might be able to uncover how our behavior and opinions contradicts our values. I would like to be able to understand the belief system that supports the political positions that people have. At least then I can respectfully disagree without resorting to calling people names.

    People may be interested in this TED talk by Jonathan Haidt about the moral roots that underlie political views.

    Friday, November 12, 2010 at 8:51 am | Permalink
  24. Jason Ray wrote:

    Nicely said, Starluna.

    I liked Lencioni’s definition of political behavior (paraphrased here) – “Acting in a way contrary to the facts or your own personal beliefs in order to gain power or produce a specific outcome.”

    This is the hole we’re in – it’s one thing to debate different opinions or different solutions to address broad objectives, and something else to lie, cheat and manipulate solely to get or keep power. The leaders of the Republican Party have totally lost sight of the difference, and are so hypocritical in their pursuit of power that they are willing to fight the very things they claim to support if it gives them an advantage.

    Speaking as an ex-Republican, I firmly believe that the problem is not “Republicans” – it’s the people in the leadership positions in the party, and their devotion to the “Rove Doctrine” for how to operate. Aided and abetted by Fox, they will continue to operate this way until they are forcibly removed from power – or until it stops working.

    The real dilemma is how to make it stop working 🙂

    Friday, November 12, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink
  25. ebdoug wrote:

    I get Christian Science Monitor. at one point, it had an advertisment for NewsMax. I informed them that one more advertisement from NewMax will cause me to cancel my subcription. We just have to keep at it. For instance, my computer tech said that we had to have “Tort Reform”, one of the selling points of the Rove group (OK, let’s not call them Republicans because the good Republicans are no longer in office) Tort is 1% of Medical Expence. On the other hand the amount we insurance payers throw away in profit to the investors would be much more than that, I would guess. Tort Reform is another smoke screen or the Rove group.

    Friday, November 12, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  26. Jason Ray wrote:

    EBDoug – Tort Reform is more important than you might think, especially in the health care industry. Our legal system (we don’t have a justice system) creates all kinds of side effects, however in the medical industry the key issue is not the % of medical expenses related to litigation – it’s the impact of paranoia ABOUT litigation on medical practices.

    If you are a medical care provider, you must have malpractice insurance because every doctor WILL be sued eventually, and the average cost of that suit is enormous. As a result, malpractice premiums go up every year (if you haven’t been sued yet, your chance of being sued has increased) and medical providers have to take elaborate precautions to minimize the exposure when they do get sued.

    The impact of that is “standard practices” that significantly increase costs and helps perpetuate the need to keep people alive “at all costs”. Over 33% of lifetime health care costs are incurred in the last two years of life, in part because death results in the largest % of lawsuits and the largest damages.

    Food for thought

    Friday, November 12, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  27. patriotsgt wrote:

    Starluna – I really enjoyed the link to the TED talk by Jonathan Haidt, thanks.

    Friday, November 12, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink
  28. Laurie wrote:

    What good is my mind, educated or not, if I don’t use it to separate fact from fiction, whomever spews it in my direction?

    Friday, November 12, 2010 at 6:35 pm | Permalink
  29. Iron Knee wrote:

    Yes, that TED talk was excellent (see comment #23) and is definitely food for thought.

    Friday, November 12, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Permalink
  30. starluna wrote:

    You can’t know enough about everything to be able to evaluate the truth in all claims that are made. We all have to rely on authoritative sources to help us understand the world. This is why the issue of intentional fabrications or misrepresentations by news media outlets are problematic.

    More importantly, facts can only be evaluated on the basis of our values and beliefs. Determining whether something is a problem, an unacceptable risk, affordable, necessary, fair, good, bad, ugly, etc is not entirely objective assessment. The deficit commission proposes to raise the age to get social security to 69. Is this good? Maybe, if you believe that the deficit is the most important thing to deal with and that it must be dealt with right now. Maybe not, if you believe that it is unfair to expect people who work in jobs that involve physical labor to work until they are 69.

    Facts support decision making. But no decision is actually made solely on the basis of facts.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 8:55 am | Permalink
  31. Laurie wrote:

    Agreed… wholeheartedly Starluna.
    But, it is certainly not impossible to (at least) attempt to listen to a variety of viewpoints before making those decisions. There are plenty to choose from, God knows. Too many people on either “side” listen only to the “side” that presents the “facts & solutions” that validate their own beliefs & values. I prefer to allow (in fact encourage) others to attempt to change my mind, just in case I’ve missed something. That’s part of the reason we love this website I think. I even try to listen to O’Reilly from time to time, painful as that can be (can’t do Rush & Beck though.. ouch). An open mind is necessary for healthy growth & logical decision making.

    That said, I think part of President Obama’s problem is his ability to see both (or all) sides of any given belief &/or idea. It’s often very difficult to know what really is the best path when several seem perfectly acceptable. I still love the man & believe that his intentions are good.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink