Reality has a well-known liberal bias, of course, but few people talk about the corollary of that law: malarkey has a strong right wing bias. Which isn’t to say that liberals aren’t capable of believing all sorts of malarkey. Sadly, I have an email inbox that is visited regularly enough with conspiratorial thinking to disprove that hypothesis. Still, there’s such a powerful machine for promoting paranoia on the right that even when conspiracy theories start off on the left, they often end up becoming more of a right wing thing. Conspiracy theories fit in the same niche as right wing hysteria, mainly a need to keep people afraid at all times and worried that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Also, it suits right wing propaganda to promote irrationality, because if their followers get into the habit of never looking at anything with a critical eye, they can be sold pretty much any batch of lies. This isn’t just a light observation—as Michael Shermer shows in his latest TED Talk, there’s actually research showing people who believe in irrational things like ESP are that much more likely to see patterns where none exist. In other words, if you want people to believe Barack Obama is a secret Muslim who’s going to take your guns, it’s good to make sure they have a steady diet of conspiracy theories and irrational nonsense being fed to them, to keep their brains working in that way. (Religion no doubt helps.) The people who run Fox News either have read this research, or just have a native feel for how to do this.
Take the above video from Media Matters. The video is a Fox News segment that presents anti-vaccination conspiracy theories as if they were straight news. The idea that the people suing drug companies over their children’s autism should have to present evidence overturning the overwhelming existing evidence that vaccines don’t cause autism is treated as appalling, even though presenting evidence for your case is not only how science works, it’s how the legal system works.
What’s interesting here is that the official conservative line is that there’s too many junk lawsuits against corporations or other rich people, particularly when it comes to medical malpractice. But apparently, that complaint doesn’t count on those occasions when the lawsuits really are junk lawsuits. In other words, they’re only against medical malpractice lawsuits that actually have some merit to them.
This makes sense, if you think about it. The need to keep their audience constantly paranoid and believing the government is out to get them trumps all other concerns. You’ll notice that the government is vilified throughout this segment for insisting that the plaintiffs prove their case, a high burden when they are promoting a thoroughly discredited theory. In fact, this impossibility is touched upon, but not because it’s evidence that the plaintiffs are wrong, but to drive up pity for them. The hope is clearly that the burden of proof in a junk lawsuit can be conflated with ordinary frustrations with bureaucracy, as if these folks’ inability to win a lawsuit on false grounds is the same thing as your frustration when you go to the DMV and they want more forms of ID than you have on you to issue you a driver’s license. (To name a recent frustration of mine.)
We can probably expect to continue seeing an escalation of right wing paranoia around health issues, I’m afraid. Passing health care reform after a retracted battle created the ground work for health care and even healthiness to be seen as liberal, and therefore evil and tainted values. Prevention in particular seems to be getting the stink eye more and more often from right wing sources. You have the escalating rhetoric that has moved from merely joking about the supposed pussiness of eating healthy to straight up scare-mongering and shaming of healthy eating. Now vaccines are getting the full scale Fox News propaganda treatment. The notion that contraception is important preventive care has been a target for right wing abuse for years now, even though it scientifically demonstrable that contraception use improves the health of women and children. I suppose soon we’ll be seeing exercise and getting regular check-ups being discredited as liberal elitism to be shunned or even seen as an assault on the wingnut tribe.