Thursday, May 28, 2020

Q-ing theory

For a long time now, we’ve been talking about conservative movement disinformation, and for almost as long (since 2015 at least) we’ve been suggesting that the movement has lost control of the process and while the disinformation is still being cranked out, it no longer serves its intended function.

2020 has provided an abundance of examples.



These last two represent a new development, Republicans objecting to right-wing conspiracy theories, but before anyone chimes in with a chorus of "good people on both sides," a little history would be useful.

I was living in Arkansas in the 90s and witnessed up close the birth of the modern style of weaponized batshit crazy conservative conspiracy theories. It was the beginning of what Charles Pierce calls happy hour at the Mena Airport cocktail lounge. Bill was a murderous drug dealer who raped his lesbian wife who, in turn, was also having an affair with Vince Foster before she had him killed.

(If you think I am exaggerating in anyway, read up on the subject. If anything, I’m understating the case)

In order to be truly effective, this approach required the disinformation to be carefully channeled and for the mainstream media to largely turn a blind eye. The lies you could tell on Rush Limbaugh‘s show got a dog whistle on Fox. The lies you could tell on Fox got a dog whistle on Meet the Press. The lies you could tell on Meet the Press is a topic for another post.

Not all journalists were AWOL. There was a great deal of outstanding reporting on the subject by people like Josh Marshall, Jonathan cheat, Jane Mayer, Ornstein  & Mann and, of course, Charles Pierce but these stories  though well reported,never really gained traction and the sources of the disinformation paid no real penalty.

The pattern would continue for a couple of decades, from the invented quotes of Al gore to the swiftboating of John Kerry to the birtherism and other absurd “scandals” of the Obama era all the way through the coverage of Hillary in 2016. Throughout all of this, you would have to look long and hard to find a Republican in good standing who objected with more than lip-service and crocodile tears.

But sometime in the Obama administration, the system started to show cracks. Theories and memes that had been relegated to dark corners and right wing radio call-in shows were suddenly showing up in quotes from Republican congressman and Senators. To those who had not been following the story closely, it appeared that there had been a huge uptick in craziness among conservatives. For those who had been keeping up, it was not at all clear that the craziness increased at all. Instead we were seeing a breakdown in the ability to control the flow of this craziness.

What had been a vital element in the party’s success for the past quarter century has now become a serious threat. By purest coincidence, Republican officials and conservative outlets decided to take a principled stand shortly after these conspiracy theories started to bite the party in the ass.

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