Part 2—One source of the nation's division: Richard Blanco’s inaugural poem may be seen as aspirational.
(For part 1 in this award-winning report, just click here.)
In a sprawling continental nation, it’s hard to maintain a sense of unified national purpose, a sense that we're really one people. Blanco’s poem may be seen as an encouragement—as a suggestion that we see ourselves as one national people under our “one sky.”
That said, the nation has been deeply divided in recent years. In truth, “we the people” don’t all believe the same things, as Obama’s inaugural address seemed to claim.
In fact, we the people believe all kinds of crazy shit, although we don’t all believe the same crazy things. In fact, it has never been easier to believe crazy things—and this makes it very hard to function as one people.
Why are we the people so divided? Sean Hannity—and his mainstream enablers—help us understand why.
Consider one of Hannity’s ongoing jihads—the ugly claim he just keeps making about the Benghazi attack. Last Thursday, Media Matters’ Simon Malloy reported on this disinformation, offering a strong tip of the cap to the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple. As he started, Maloy defined Hannity’s bogus claim:
MALLOY (1/24/13): Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple has been working doggedly to correct one of Sean Hannity's favorite false claims about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi: that State Department officials watched "real-time" video of the assault from an office in Washington, DC. Wemple's efforts got an assist from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on January 23: "There was no monitor, there was no real time." As Wemple's debunking of the falsehood makes clear, Hannity has been the primary driver of this claim by repeating on a near-daily basis.That's an especially ugly claim. It attributes deeply callous behavior to State Department officials.
According to Hannity’s presentations, Obama officials watched the Benghazi attacks by video feed as they unfolded in real time. But so what? According to Hannity, officials kept making false statements about these attacks, despite their privileged access to the real-time events—and as they sat and watched the carnage, they callously refused to call in military assistance.
That's an especially ugly claim. At his Post blog, Wemple has been debunking the charge since last October, when it got its start. It has long been clear that there was no real-time video feed—that Obama officials were not able to watch the unfolding events in Benghazi. But Hannity keeps telling his viewers that this viewing party occurred.
Presumably, many viewers believe this claim. It’s the type of claim which creates deep fissures among us the people.
Hannity’s viewers have no obvious way of knowing that this inflammatory claim is untrue. This brings us to the culpability of Hannity’s many mainstream enablers.
As Malloy notes, Wemple has done several posts in the past few months about this piece of disinformation. But Wemple’s blog is not hugely well-known—and higher-profile fact-checkers and media critics have given Sean his usual pass.
As we have noted for the past decade, many major mainstream news orgs run in fear from the dissembling of powerful players like Rush and Sean. For major mainstream players, life is far more pleasant when they don’t call attention to Rush and Sean’s misconduct.
In the process, their viewers and listeners get misled—and we the people start getting cut into segments.
Wemple has challenged Hannity concerning this ongoing bogus claim. Better-known players have not. Consider:
In recent weeks and months, Glenn Kessler, the Post’s official Fact-Checker, has been turning into a rather unbalanced scolder of Obama and Clinton. That said, how many times has Kessler ever corrected the many misstatements of Hannity?
According to the Nexis archives, the answer tends toward none. In his highest profile fact-checks—the fact-checks which appear in the hard-copy Sunday Post—Kessler has never fact-checked Hannity.
In recent weeks, his Sunday fact-checks have piddled around with slightly odd criticisms of Obama and Bill Clinton. Hannity keeps making an ugly charge. Kessler keeps skipping past it.
We don’t mean to single out Kessler. After reading Malloy’s report, we checked to see whether Politifact has fact-checked Hannity’s repeated charge about that non-existent video feed.
As best we can tell, the answer is no. That said, we were struck by how very rarely Politifact has ever challenged Hannity’s statements. Let’s take a look at the record:
Last Friday, a very unusual event occurred—Politifact fact-checked something Hannity said and declared his statement “False.” Even there, the site seemed rather kind to Sean. In its front-page synopsis, it described Hannity’s false statement to be “a valid concern, incorrectly described.”
In fact, Hannity’s statement was grossly inaccurate. In our view, Politifact devoted a great deal of time and effort to the defense of those soothing words about his rather large howler.
That said, Politifact did declare Hannity’s statement “False.” This is an extremely rare event at the famous fact-checking site. As best we can tell from the site’s search engine, the story breaks down like this:
Before last Friday, Politifact hadn’t fact-checked any statement by Hannity since November 30, 2011. At that time, it declared one of his statements to be “Half true.”
Politifact had also fact-checked Hannity on September 15 of that year. In that instance, Hannity’s statement was judged to be flat-out “True.”
Indeed, Hannity’s string of truthful statements dates back several more years, to judge from Politifact’s work. Before those two fact-checks in the fall of 2011, the site hadn’t fact-checked any of Hannity's statements since November 11, 2009.
On that date, Politifact fact-checked two different statements by Hannity. Each statement was judged to be “True.” Politifact had also fact-checked two different Hannity statements in September 2009. One of those statements was rated “Half true;” the other was “Mostly true.”
Does Hannity ever make a false statement? Here is his exemplary record, as best we can limn it from Politifact’s whirring search engine:
Record of Sean Hannity’s statements at Politifact:Does this man ever slip up?
January 25, 2013: False
November 30, 2011: Half true
September 15, 2011: True
November 11, 2009: True
November 11, 2009: True
September 25, 2009: Half true
September 23, 2009: Mostly true
Working our way back through the years, Hannity’s remarkable string of truthful statements finally comes to an end in June 2009. On June 22 of that year, Politifact declared one of his statements to be “False.” Hannity didn’t make another false statement until last Friday, when he expressed “a valid concern, incorrectly described.”
According to Politifact, this was Hannity’s first false statement in well-nigh onto four years. But then, Limbaugh also makes very few false statements! Judging from the Politifact search engine, the famous truth-teller made no false or half-true statements in 2011. In 2012, though, he made two. According to Politifact, this is Rush Limbaugh’s most recent inaccurate statement—one of only two he has made in the past two years:
July 18, 2012:The site is keeping a close eye on Rush! Click here, scroll down to that date.
Rush Limbaugh: Says it's not "accidental" that the villain in the Batman movie is named Bane.
How have we the people become so polarized? There are many answers to that question, but for ourselves, this is where we would start. We’d start with the creation of fire-breathing pseudo-conservative institutions—and with the timid compliance of major mainstream news orgs, which persistently look away from the disinformation and discord these institutions sow.
For decades, we the people have heard all kinds of stupid and/or ugly shit from various hacks of the pseudo-right. Many of us have believed these claims.
Our big mainstream news orgs have kept quiet. We the people tend to splinter and break apart when our “leaders” behave in such ways.
Tomorrow: Moving right along