WaPo Says No Contest: Majority of Lying Junk E-Mail Comes from the Right, Not the Left

Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi charged in the Sunday Outlook section that conservatives are the bigger liars with sub-rosa e-mail gossip chains: "when it comes to generating and sustaining specious and shocking stories, there’s no contest. The majority of the junk comes from the right, aimed at the left."

Who did the measuring of this tilt? Why, the Washington Post fact checker, of course, and Politifact.com (run out of the liberal St. Petersburg Ties) and FactCheck.org, run by the liberal Annenberg Center at the University of Pennysylvania. In other words, the liberal media-political complex is claiming to be "nonpartisan" again. 

Nonpartisan debunkers such as FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, PolitiFact.com, Emery and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker have been chasing down these tales and dousing them like three-alarm fires for years. (There’s even a chain e-mail that paints Snopes as a liberal cover-up for the White House.) It’s often difficult for these myth-busters to say with certainty where a falsehood began. But the numbers are clear.

Of the 79 chain e-mails about national politics deemed false by PolitiFact since 2007, only four were aimed at Republicans. Almost all of the rest concern Obama or other Democrats.

Farhi quoted Ari Fleischer as the only feint toward conservatives or Republicans in the piece but Fleischer wasn't quoted challenging the Farhi thesis. How scientific is Snopes, for example, in "turning up" false political e-mails? Do they rely on tips, and sent by whom? Can a "nonpartisan" site be an easy mark for partisan sources? (Farhi links to that Soros-funded group run by David Brock, for example.)

Snopes turned up 46 viral e-mails regarding Bush during his eight years in office. By contrast, in just four years as a candidate and as president, Obama has been the subject of 100 such chain e-mails. The difference is not just in number but in kind: Twenty of the 46 Bush e-mails checked by Snopes turned out to be true, and many of these flattered or praised him. Only 10 e-mails about Obama have been true, and almost every one of them has been negative.

Emery estimates that more than 80 percent of the political e-mails that he’s vetted over the past decade were written from a conservative point of view. “The use of forwarded e-mail to spread [false information] around is overwhelmingly a right-wing phenomenon,” he said.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was a frequent target of chain e-mailers when she was speaker of the House, recalls Snopes founder David Mikkelson. But he can’t recall a single urban myth about her successor, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). Even former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who inspires apoplexy among liberals, hasn’t rated much on the e-mail circuit since her stint as Sen. John McCain’s running mate in 2008.

Palin hasn't been lied about much? This is where the article just underlines how the "fact checkers" aren't interested in "defending" Sarah Palin.

Wacky e-mails making demonstrably ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims about Obama are despicable. The media loves grasping on them to tar conservatives as a whole. It all comes around to a familiar liberal media-elite thesis. The "gatekeepers" have lost their power to dominate, meaning the lies run wild now, when they never did when the liberam media dominated:

Changes in the news media landscape have also helped lies to thrive. A generation or more ago, powerful gatekeepers — large newspapers, broadcast networks, a news magazine or two — dominated the dissemination of national news. No more.

“There was a mainstream media that acted as a filter,” says Bill Adair, the editor of PolitiFact. Now, the filter is overwhelmed. “The Internet is a megaphone that spreads conspiracies quickly before there’s anyone to correct the facts,” he says. “There’s no one between your crazy uncle and his address book.”

Perhaps the best theory comes from Ari Fleischer, who served as Bush’s first press secretary. Fleischer points out that conservatives traditionally mistrust mainstream news. E-mail is another way for them to put out their own messages, countering the perceived biases of traditional media sources, he says. “If you believe the liberal media is covering up,” Fleischer explains, then you might be more susceptible to believe and pass on an outrageous e-mail.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis