Is the Left Capable of Spreading Misinformation?

Today, E.J.Dionne takes on everyone's propensity to pick up bogus stories from the right, especially Fox News, which raises a point I've been thinking about:

This goes way back. Al Gore never actually said he "invented the Internet," but you could be forgiven for not knowing this because the mainstream media kept reporting he had. There were no "death panels" in the Democratic health care bills. But this false charge got so much coverage that last August, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 45 percent of Americans thought the reform proposals would likely allow "the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly." That was the summer when support for reform was dropping precipitously. A straight-out lie influenced the course of one of our most important debates. The traditional media are so petrified of being called "liberal" that they are prepared to allow the Breitbarts of the world to become their assignment editors. Mainstream journalists regularly criticize themselves for not jumping fast enough or high enough when the Fox crowd demands coverage of one of their attack lines.

I could easily come up with a half dozen other outright lies that have gained wide acceptance in the last few years after starting somewhere on the right and spreading to the mainstream media (what's different about the Shirley Sherrod case is that the lie was actually discovered and refuted quickly). But I can't immediately come up with anything similar starting from the left: a falsehood that started with the DNC, or a liberal news outlet, or a Democratic politician, and spread widely to ultimately have a real impact on some debate or election, with the refutations falling on deaf ears. And I'm not talking about "Candidate X once said something that wasn't true," but a real manufactured controversy with legs.

That may well be my own bias -- perhaps there are plenty of cases, but I remember them as ones where progressives and conservatives just had a difference of opinion over how to interpret things, or maybe I remember them simply as the truth being spread, while a conservative would say it was an outright lie. There are certainly instances in which there were competing interpretations of things -- whether George W. Bush wanted to privatize Social Security, or allow it to blossom with "personal accounts," for instance. But if you can think of a case in the last few years where an objective observer would say that the left managed to propagate an outright lie, get lots of attention for it, and have it widely accepted, put it in the comments.

-- Paul Waldman

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