In the hyper-fast modern media world, it is easy to make a mistake. Social media platforms like Twitter are full of fake accounts, rumours and outright lies. Emails, Facebook and the emergence of a million blogs mean news, or more often "news", travels fast and demands quick decisions and little verification.
When it comes to failing to tell the difference between reality and fiction, it seems the Republican party has a particular problem. Take what happened over the weekend when Young Republican national policy chairman Jason Whitman took umbrage that Will McAvoy, the news anchor for top cable channel ACN, appeared to be displaying a double standard about conservative icon Sarah Palin. McAvoy had tweeted:
"When will the media stop talking about the politically irrelevant Sarah Palin at CPAC? I'm devoting the hour to that topic tonight!" — Will McAvoy (@WillMcAvoy_ACN) March 16, 2013
Whitman was outraged and fired back: "It's odd that @WillMcAvoy_ACN is dedicating an entire hour of his show to "politically irrelevant" @SarahPalinUSA".
Of course, as any avid viewer of HBO's The Newsroom understands neither McAvoy nor ACN exists because they are fictional creations of Aaron Sorkin's hit television show and the Twitter account was a parody. Oops! But that mistake pales with what happened when Daily News reporter Dan Friedman joked with a Republican contact about CIA nominee Chuck Hagel. Friedman had asked his source if groups like "Friends of Hamas" or "The Junior League of Hezbollah" had been paying Hagel speaking fees. Both names were invented jokes and Friedman was being sarcastic. But later he was stunned when a story about Friends of Hamas – citing Republican sources – popped up on conservative website Breitbart.com.
Soon enough former GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee opined that: "...rumors of Chuck Hagel's having received funds from Friends of Hamas," would, if true, "disqualify him". Kentucky Senator Rand Paul called it "concerning".
Oh dear. Of course, no political movement or ideology or newspaper is immune from this. I do it. This newspaper has done it. All sides can make mistakes, believe the unbelievable out of a simple desire for to it to be true and only search out information that reinforces opinions already held. But the GOP has more form than most and it goes way back. After all, in 2004, a senior Republican source – widely assumed to be Karl Rove – told New York Times magazine of a lack of respect for the "reality-based community". The source explained: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."
That attitude explains a lot about the disconnect between the extremes of the GOP and the world as experienced by most Americans. It is an attitude reinforced by a vast ecosystem of conservative media in the form of blogs, books and radio shows – and, of course Fox News – that allows the right-wing to create its own alternative world where outlandish opinions are common place.
At the conservative gathering CPAC last week the enormity of this media world was remarkable. The hall was packed with talk radio shows, conservative publishers and authors signing their latest books, many of which were bestsellers. This is a world where it is seriously believed that the United Nations is trying to take over the US, and Obama is a Kenyan socialist, an Islamist, a Marxist or the biological son of communist-sympathiser Frank Marshall Davis. This is a world where Obama wants to take away all guns, where he has dictatorial powers worthy of an emperor and where the US media is a liberal conspiracy pushing abortions and being gay. This is the world where Glenn Beck, former Fox TV host turned popular publisher of The Blaze website, is hugely powerful and shock jock Rush Limbaugh is king.
Nothing of its kind exists to the same degree on the left, despite the recent best propagandistic efforts of MSNBC. Limbaugh is a man who can bring GOP politicians down if he wants. If they stray from orthodoxy, he can bring them back into line with some vitriol on his show. The words of MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, or even New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, do not carry anything near the same weight with Democrats.
No wonder some GOP members cannot tell fact from fiction. This is a party whose right-wing is gripped in the embrace of its own media and vice versa. They feed off each other, like a snake eternally eating its own tail. For them the centrist Obama, who takes huge donations from Goldman Sachs and is a national security hardliner, is a radical socialist. America's booming stock market is in fact a state-run economy barely worthy of being called a Soviet Republic. It is where the mainstream media is a vast leftist conspiracy, rather than a bland purveyor of "he said, she said" news stories. It is an America on the verge of being forced to surrender all its guns, rather than actually owning 300m of them.
The every day reality of America, a country with very real problems (none of which involve a Marxist in the White House), does not intrude into the right's self-reinforcing symbiotic relationship. It does not need to. No wonder some in the GOP think Will McAvoy is real. Or that Friends of Hamas pays cash to Chuck Hagel. That's just the tip of the iceberg.
[Image via Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons licensed]