Some bad acid's been going around: As we noted in this morning's report, the Washington Post has now spotted, and denounced, the spread of false factual claims.
The Post was reacting to the claim by Donald J. Trump that "millions of people" voted illegally in this month's election. In its sudden rejection of the culture of fake claims, the Post has executed one of the biggest "flip-flops" in modern political history.
Our public discourse has been drenched in false claims for several decades now. Some of these bogus claims have involved candidates and office holders. Some of these phony claims have involved major policy matters and major substantive topics.
In the age of talk radio and the Net, it has become extremely easy to spread fake factual claims around. Consider an earlier version of Donald J. Trump's bogus claim about those "millions of people."
We heard an earlier version of Trump's fake claim in a replay of Sunday morning's Washington Journal. Clarence Page, the Chicago Tribune columnist, was C-Span's featured guest. A C-Span caller managed to beat Donald J. Trump to the punch:
CALLER (11/27/16): The biggest corruption that I see is the fact that most of the time, as far as I know, none of the states require any proof of citizenship when you do register to vote. And places like California and New York City, Chicago, a lot of these places where you have a large population of illegal aliens, there was one estimate that said half a million of the votes in California were probably from illegal aliens. So that's the problem. If we want to work on the system, we need to work on the system to make sure we don't have people who are illegal aliens here voting in our elections. Because you know they could have turned the election in some of these states.C-Span's Washington Journal is a form of "talk radio." People are free to call in and say whatever they like.
Such claims will be heard by many C-Span viewers. The statements may or may not be challenged by C-Span's moderator or by his or her guests.
C-Span viewers then get on the phone to their Aunt Bess and start spreading the claims around, believing them to be true. Later in the day, a president-elect, without offering evidence, may tweet a larger version of some claim—may even parrot a "conspiracy theory" which has been "widely debunked!"
These are all versions of Trumpism, a noxious, destructive culture which is quote common now. That said, this noxious culture has been widely practiced for decades. In the political realm, Trumpism preceded Donald J. Trump by a good many years. Donald J. Trump has merely amped up this familiar, destructive old practice.
How has this noxious culture managed to flourish down through the many long years? Sometimes, big papers like the Washington Post have played the active role in initiating these bogus claims. Beyond that, they've routinely averted their gaze as influential figures—Jerry Falwell, Rush Limbaugh, Donald J. Trump—have pimped bogus claims around.
They've also vouched for the truthfulness of figures who pimp crazy claims around. Gennifer Flowers and Kathleen Willey both pimped Clinton murder claims for enjoyment and profit. But so what? Right through this fall's election, the Washington Post and the New York Times were vouching for the general truthfulness of these treasured, beloved accusers.
Yesterday afternoon, we heard the replay of that C-Span call as we returned by motor car from an undisclosed location. The initial broadcast occurred Sunday morning, Later, Donald J. Trump tweeted his larger version of this general claim.
In the case of the C-Span call, Page responded by saying "it's news to me that you don't have to prove your citizenship in Illinois to vote." Page went on to describe how many hoops he had to jump through to register to vote in the state.
To listen to the full exchange, click here, skip ahead to 12:30. Presumably, many C-Span viewers believed the caller's claims, despite what Page said in reply.
That said, phony claims have played a key role in our public discourse for decades. This very day, the Washington Post, in a major flip, decided to come out in opposition to this familiar cultural practice. Many experts are calling it one of our biggest modern political flips.
Back in the day, officials would get on the mike at these "rock festivals" and announce that there was "some bad acid going around." Our big newspapers have been slow to issue such warnings about bad information.
This morning, the Washington Post officially flipped on this point of culture. BREAKING:
It now seems that the Washington Post opposes the spread of fake claims.