WELCOME TO SIDE 4. Follow in your book and repeat after me as we learn three new terms in Turkish: ‘buzzword,’ ‘voter fraud,’ and ‘viral news story.’ Excellent! Now, before we go any further in the book, I have here a bit of background on two topics: voter-fraud and popular American political buzz-words.
Then we will stroll through a day in the life of a viral ‘news story’ (the quote marks should tell you that they’re not really stories with factual news) as it winds its way through the rightwingnut blogosphere and finds its way into the welcoming embrace of FoxNews and maybe even to the bosom of corporate/mainstream media. 1
A buzzword is a word or a phrase that means something other than what it seems. In this way, it is a form of irony. Buzzwords are used in all walks of life as a means to reach a targeted audience who understands that the words have multiple meanings, some of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink variety.
Here we will concern ourselves solely with their use as political jargon. 2
This 1938 cartoon is by John Mitchell Jr. The man symbolizes the local authority’s lack of commitment to bettering the situation. The scroll represents the Federal Anti-Lynching Bill that was passed in 1922 with little enforcement. (Landon Burkhart)
Simply, the purpose of a political buzzword is to pass off socially unacceptable concepts in a socially acceptable manner. For example, a much-used term of the past fifty years with which every literate American should be familiar is states’ rights.
On its face, states’ rights means keeping as much power in each individual state as possible and keeping the federal government from interfering in state and even local affairs. It means assuring that the federal (centralized) government respects the rights of states’ (decentralized) government to see to their individual affairs as they see fit.
Politicians who use the term states’ rights often link it to the Tenth Amendment, which is another story for another time. 3
Which seems eminently reasonable.
But beneath the surface, states rights is generally understood to mean anti-black and even white supremacy—a concept that is socially and personally unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of Americans.
Cartoon by Stuart Carlson of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Right to work and welfare queens
Another familiar term is right-to-work—and who doesn’t want the right to work where and when he pleases?!!? But that’s not all it means: as a buzzword almost everyone understands that right-to-work means a state that is Rep*blican-dominated and actively anti-union/anti-labor (anti-poor) and just as actively pro-owner/pro-management (pre-wealthy).
A particularly foul political buzzword is Welfare queen, now forever linked to President Ronald “No More Mr Nice Guy” Reagan. It is a pejorative term used in the U.S. to refer to women who allegedly collect excessive welfare payments through fraud or manipulation.
Or in the minds of many white folk, by having as many babies as possible with no regard for how many fathers it takes.
Note that while the two words Welfare queen do not imply race; they simply refer to a female on Welfare. Yet everyone knew that Reagan was referring to black women living in cities, not white women living in the suburbs. 4
Note that in here the United States, political buzzwords are far more often employed by the right-of-center than those on the other side. (You wanna guess why?) 5
Barbara Ehrenreich went undercover to investigate the impact of the 1996 welfare reform act on the working poor in the United States. Her findings stand in contrast to the rantings of rightwingnuts who claim that women on welfare live like queens.
“Voter fraud” as a buzzword
The term voter fraud is bandied about the rightwingnut blogosphere so flagrantly that it is almost meaningless—at least to a non-rightward-leaning observer. When it is used incorrectly, it is usually out of ignorance or maliciousness. It varies from website to website and is almost impossible to differentiate without directly inquiring of the writer.
Conservative-leaning readers who don’t take the time to research voter fraud believe that any impropriety involving the casting of ballots or the counting of ballots is a case of fraud.
“Project Vote, a nonprofit working on voter registration, defines voter fraud as the intentional corruption of the electoral process by the voter. It’s when a voter knowingly blows off the American principle of one person-one vote in an effort to influence an election.
You’ve heard the fears: people will vote using a fake identity, vote more than once, sell their votes, or vote when they’re actually ineligible. Voter mistakes, however, are not fraud. Even bad judgment and pranks aren’t fraud if they aren’t part of an effort to sway the vote.” 6
For all intents and purposes (an idiom I love, even if it’s redundant), voter fraud in the rightwingnut blogosphere means “them there librulls are cheating again.” Yet every reliable investigation into the issue finds that the instances of voter fraud in national elections in the US are so minuscule—less than one-half of one percent (>.5%)—as to be effectively non-existent!
This is the rare first issue of Hate Radio comics! This issue was hurried into print in 1994 when the Republican Party won control of Congress and the freshman Republican class awarded Rush Limbaugh an honorary membership in their caucus. Due to the haste, neither a price nor a date was printed on the cover. As both a first issue and an “origin issue,” it is prized among collectors of misogynist comics. (Landon Burkhart)
Buzzwords are ubiquitous on the worldwide web, but since they rarely emanate from a powerful source, their impact is negligent. But the internet has proven a blessing (a facilitator?) to originators of jokes, hoaxes, and outright (and often malicious) lies. Many of the latter are political, and most of them appear to originate in an alternative universe that makes Bizarro World look normal: the rightwingnut blogosphere.
Made up of Grommett only knows how many personal blogs, the rightwingnut blogosphere is a self-contained universe where rumors, innuendo, gossip, and plain old-fashioned lies are accepted with arms open and frontal lobes on vacation.
As long as they are anti-Democrat or anti-liberal!
Many of these bits of misinformation are easily disproven with a few minutes’ worth of research, some so patently unbelievable that looking them up isn’t even required!
All of them are willingly disseminated from one blog to the next, hoping to find a spot on FoxNews.
They spread like infectious diseases
The word viral originated with infectious diseases caused by viruses, but now also means a message, image, meme, etc.—hell, even an occasional fact!—that is circulated rapidly and widely on the internet. This includes email. These viral, meme-like stories are often circulated as ‘news’ without any fact-checking, as they reflect the persuasions (often hate) of the person passing them along.
While viral ‘news stories’ of suspect origin can be found all over the internet, they are so commonplace in the rightwingnut blogosphere that they can appear to be the sole raison d’etre of its existence. Here’s how it works:
1. Some obscure blogger posts a story/rumor (say, something about Hillary Clinton’s health): say the blogger overheard someone say something, or interpreted a story or a photo in a unique manner, or—dare I say it?—was passed some dirt by a source who is never named.
And faster than you can say “Grover Norquist” it’s picked up by other sites of the same ilk. Think of the site as ground zero and the blogger as patient zero: like a viral infection, the momentum builds and thousands and thousands of similar sites run the story without a single site doing the most elementary fact-checking.
Since these are ‘blogs’ and not news-sites, there is no concern for accuracy or accountability. The ‘news story’ is now a phenomenon in the rightwingnut blogosphere—and yet no one has proven any of it to be true!
2. Then rightwingnut talk-radio begins chatting it up—and as these are just talk-shows expressing opinions, there is no concern for accuracy or accountability. First the little guys with shows on tiny station no one’s ever heard of and then, after enough of them talk about it, it’s picked up by the Big Boys—Rush, Glenn, Michael, etc.
3. Next, a supposedly ‘reliable’ (Hah!) site like the Drudge Report (Hah! x 2) picks it up because, after all, it’s now on thousands of sites and all over the AM bands, so it must mean something!
4. Then it’s picked up by some small FM radio or cable-network ‘news’ outlets with a distinctly right-of-center perspective and a ‘no-questions-asked’ attitude.
Before you can say “When’s the next Congressional investigation into Benghazi?” it’s on Fox News!
5. Since the corporate/mainstream media has recognized and therefore legitimized Fox News, it next finds its way onto Fox and it’s treated seriously by ABC! NBC! CNN!
And so everyone talks about it as though it’s actual, factual news!
Except it’s not.
It’s propaganda. 8
This is a publicity photo of Daryl Hannah as psychopathic assassin Elle Driver from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003). Long known for her environmental activism, she has also been arrested several times in protests, such as supporting American farmers and not supporting the Keystone pipeline. For casual fans of Ms. Hannah who only know her big hit movies, find a copy of Crazy People with Dudley Moore (1990) and enjoy yourself.
Fairness and accuracy
Remember, accuracy and fairness and balance are not the aims of these viral ‘news stories.’ As these stories have more in common with weapons than with any normal conveyor of information, doing as much damage to the target as fast as possible is the goal.
And many of these stories are quite simply unbelievable to anyone with even a rudimentary ability to ratiocinate—which somehow doesn’t prevent tens of millions of voters from believing it. 9
Then, after it’s done its damage, and it’s proven false, or erroneous, or merely yet another complete fabrication (Breitbart News anyone?), it’s gone. 10
Forgotten by all but the true believers.
And then it’s time for the next virus …
FEATURED IMAGE: For decades, there have been rumors of Governor Bill Clinton having dozens of people who possessed incriminating evidence about him murdered and buried somewhere in Arkansas: “We shouldn’t have to tell anyone not to believe this claptrap, but we will anyway. In a frenzied media climate where the Chief Executive couldn’t boff a White House intern without the whole world finding out every niggling detail of each encounter and demanding his removal from office, are we seriously to believe the same man had been having double handfuls of detractors and former friends murdered with impunity?” (Snopes)
1 Rightwingnut and rightwing are not synonymous by definition, although it’s almost impossible to tell the difference anymore, especially on the internet (and doubly especially so in Trump’s Amerikkka).
2 Irony is “the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really think.” (Merriam-Webster)
3 The Tenth Amendment in its entirety reads, The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. “The best way to read the Tenth Amendment we actually have is that its words mean what they say, and not what they don’t say. The Constitution grants Congress all the implied powers necessary and proper to using its enumerated powers.” (The Atlantic)
4 If you want to read the only in-depth investigation into welfare and the working poor, I suggest Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel And Dimed – On (Not) Getting By in America.
5 Go to your browser and type in “political buzzword” and you will find numerous articles on the first page about terms that have been used in the 2016 campaign for both the nominations and for the presidential election. Even though we have been hearing them for months, some have meanings that are baffling to outsiders but are easily understood by the target audience.
6 Voter fraud is so rare as to be effectively nonexistent. But the claim that voter fraud threatens the integrity of American elections is widespread and is itself a deception. Additional reading: “The Myth Of Voter Fraud” and “The Voter Fraud Myth” and “No, voter fraud actually isn’t a persistent problem.” Also, voter fraud is not the same as election fraud or voter suppression.
7 I found this clever piece of satire on the Internet Weekly Report; I altered the image for my use here.
8 I’m not saying that there is leftwingnut nonsense making the rounds of the internet. There is, just nowhere near as many. And I’m not saying that there aren’t any left-leaning people willing to believe the dumbest things. There are, just nowhere near as many.
9 One of my personal faves involved the ‘fact’ that in many states you can make more on Welfare than you can at a minimum wage job! The ‘study’ revealed that a person on Welfare in Hawaii could make more than $60,000 a year! The study failed to mention that figure would need to qualify for and receive Section 8 housing allowance, medical and dental care, food stamps, yada yoda blah blah, along with the Welfare check. (Thanks, Cato!)
10 Unless it’s about the Clintons, in which case it can take on a life-after-death quality and linger on from here to eternity. I am gonna go out on a limb here and predict that it will be the same for Obama.