How Propaganda Can Backfire

Right-wing media has been quite successful in feeding propaganda to an audience hungry for sensational radio and television. Smart individuals spin thin facts into fat assertions that are sometimes positively Orwellian in the way that they misrepresent reality. Other times they just make assertions based on nothing but mythical anecdotes.

Last week the Rupert Murdoch owned Wall Street Journal ran a piece raising the alarm about inflation. Their thin facts were that wholesale prices were rising and putting grocers under pressure to raise their prices. The article correctly pointed out that so far this year food and beverage prices had risen at a paltry annual rate of less than 0.6%. This didn’t stop the article making the fat claim that “an inflationary tide is beginning to ripple through America’s supermarkets and restaurants.”

Sarah Palin took the bait. The Wall Street Journal was so successful in spinning its propaganda, that Palin claimed in a speech that, “everyone who ever goes out shopping for groceries knows that prices have risen significantly over the past year or so.” Inconveniently, another writer from the Wall Street Journal called her out on her false claim.

This isn’t the first time a Tea Party darling has been exposed because s/he was too gullible about believing the spin of the right. Famously in a debate, Christine O’Donnell demonstrated her lack of understanding about what the Bill of Rights says concerning the freedom of religion. The right-wing media loves to prattle on about how the separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. Of course this statement is true if you put quotes around “separation of church and state.” Nowhere in the Constitution does that exact phrase appear.

It’s rather hard to hear the quotation marks when listening to some angry prophet of the right-wing media. So it’s understandable that someone like O’Donnell would be surprised to learn what the first amendment of the Constitution actually says when it is read to her during a political debate. She got caught by the same trap as Palin: she believed the spin even when it contradicted the facts.

The scary part of this tale is that in a Democracy, we need an educated electorate to avoid being manipulated by the rich and powerful. Many voters out there have grossly inaccurate understandings of facts that have been misrepresented by pundits in the media.

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