22 April 2010

The Party of No Credibility

American right-wing leaders are responding to complaints about their adherents’ insults, threats, and acts of violence by claiming that such problems occur on the left as well. Of course, they don’t dare to compare and quantify such behavior. That would mean acknowledging that, for example, Congressional historians find no precedent for Rep. Joe Wilson shouting at the President during a joint session of Congress. Or that the Secret Service reported a 400% increase in threats to the President when Barack Obama took office.

To keep on top of urban myths of all kinds, I subscribe to the Snopes.com update list, and I noticed a pattern there that I thought deserved to be examined more arithmetically. It struck me I was seeing a lot more rumors about President Obama, and a lot more false rumors, than I remembered from earlier years. So I ran the numbers, as of this week.

After eight years in the White House (with Snopes.com around all that time), George W. Bush has been the subject of 47 internet rumors. After less than two years in office, Barack Obama has been the subject of 87, or nearly twice as many.

Even more telling is the relative accuracy of those stories. For Bush, 20 rumors, or 43%, are true. Only 17, or 36%, are false. The remainder are of mixed veracity (4), undetermined (4), or unclassifiable (2).

In contrast, for Obama only 8 of the 87 rumors, or 9%, are true, and a whopping 59, or 68%, are whoppers. There are 16 of mixed veracity and 3 undetermined.

I delved down to the stories that the site designates as a mixture of truth and falsehood. For Obama, in most cases the truth is innocuous while the lie reflects poorly on the President, particularly photographs that are misrepresented or show behavior that produced no complaints when his predecessors did the same. In contrast, in this mixture of truth and falsehood about George W. Bush praying with an injured soldier, the lie reflected well on that President from the perspective of the religious person spreading it.

I looked on Snopes’s Politics page for another pair of politicians in parallel situations, and found the losing candidates of the last two presidential elections. Snopes’s page on John Kerry lists 22 rumors, and only 3 are true (14%). Its page for John McCain lists only 11 rumors, and 4 are true (36%). There are far more rumors about the Democratic candidate, and fewer true ones.

This evidence accumulated over ten years shows a shameful but undeniable fact of American politics: our right wing now contains a lot more liars, and a lot more folks who spread lies out of gullibility or wishfulness, than our left wing.

(Image above from the Teabonics Flickr set.)


mta said...

Fascinating post! This tabulation deserves wider circulation, I think!

J. L. Bell said...

To my pleasant surprise, Salon thought so too.

Anonymous said...

Saw your post on Salon.com. Brilliant piece of reporting.

Greg R. Fishbone said...

Amazingly, I saw this on Salon before I checked the feed for Oz and Ends. Very cool.

Matt Osborne said...

Huh. I have a new favorite blog...

This is really excellent work, and I'm glad you've put some empirical evidence out there. Communications and polisci students should take note and do more studies with more data-sets.

Of course, you realize that you and Snopes will both get dismissed as liars, and lies will be told about both you and Snopes. That's because it's all the right has left: fear, lies, and loud noises. It's not like they can point to significant achievements in power; their ideology has very nearly destroyed the country.

Good work.

J. L. Bell said...

There have indeed been knee-jerk responses that Snopes.com must be biased or my analysis wrong, but no one’s been brave enough to bring those complaints here. As you see, I’ve gotten nothing but compliments so far.

Unknown said...

Reminds me of a quote I heard on npr. (Paraphrased from memory) "The republican party is the gag reflex of american politics." Out of context, I realize, but feels somehow fitting to this discussion.

Anonymous said...

I think it is entirely unrealistic to pretend that the threats to Stumbles the Clown have come from the right.

That's just stoopit name calling.

The people who are threatening the president are those sorts who wear white hoods and look up to some bozo who calls himself a Grand Wizard but still can't speak his mother tongue. They are all racist fukers who do not represent the right or the left any more than those psychotic Islam-O-Fascists who flew planes into building represent the left.

Or are you maybe hoping to embrace those Islam-O-fascists as representing your thinking?

J. L. Bell said...

Apparently, Anonymous, you feel that you can define the entire “right” so that extremists to the right of you don’t count. But on the political spectrum, they’re most definitely on the right.

In fact, I see a lot more similarity between them and you than between you and respectable American conservatives. Anonymously calling the President “Stumbles the Clown” makes you look both contemptuous and contemptible.

As for religious fundamentalists who kill people in the name of their centuries-old faith, they come from the extreme right, whether they’re Islamic or Christian.

Anonymous said...

the secret of power 101
in cumbersome republic here we come
IT’S a simply funny sound
keep em down brown
hold em downtown twelve hours
just keep saying no
nice throw Bow- go low!
show the world crow
row row row the yo!
woe the whoa glow the flow hoe
not funny dude
just keep STEPPING down
keep pulling em down
keep holding em down
keep em on the ground
let em eat cake
just fake care four our own
kick em harder & harder
hit em where it hurts
bleed em to death Burt
no water know time
starve em to death
give the poison to the blind
fine the silly with lime
headache the senine
give the money to the wealthy
then call the stupid people names
so- that's how you do it- bro
it's all in the

gabriel givens 10’

Sarah Stevenson said...

Really interesting post, and congrats on the Salon feed!