October 28, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Appeasing the GOP’s injurious bullshit

5 big lies the press corps must stop laundering.

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Regular readers of the Editorial Board are familiar with the layered complexity of our moment. The crisis we face isn’t only political. It isn’t just economic. It isn’t about public health alone. It’s also an information crisis. Too many people in too many places in this country believe fantastical lies as if they were true. The Russians did a pretty good job, but 2016 was nothing compared to what Fox and others do to Americans every day. Victory for Joe Biden won’t change this. It will probably make matters worse. The key, I think, is raising awareness of what’s happening, how and why.

Alexander Nazaryan is a Yahoo News correspondent whom God has unfairly blessed with a scintillating combo of political shrewdness and literary sensitivity. On Tuesday, he described on Twitter the main method by which Fox and others bully their way into the American political consciousness: “Conservative media routinely manufactures scandals—John Kerry’s service in Vietnam, Hillary Clinton’s email server, Hunter Biden’s emails—then browbeats mainstream media into not covering those ‘scandals’ to [a] sufficient degree. It’s bad-faith politics and huge disservice to voters.”

Fact-checking, while entirely admirable, is entirely insufficient to holding the very rich and powerful to account.

That, however, is only half of it. With respect to Nazaryan (whose writing I encourage you to seek out and savor), we need to see the fullness of what Fox and others are doing to America. We need to see that it’s lying at scale with the intent to injure. That it aims to poison the citizenry’s understanding of public affairs. That it creates conditions in which the truth itself is partisan. That it provides Americans with an escape from their civic and social responsibilities. That it fabricates the illusion of freedom when there’s really barbarism. Most of all, we need to see when “mainstream media” play along, they are enabling the above. They are, in a very real sense, complicit in our betrayal.

The following are 5 Big Lies that members of the Washington press corps accept as true or habitually repeat uncritically in their reporting. In the process, they launder these lies, give them credibility and legitimacy, and mask their illicit and injurious origins. Fact-checking, while entirely admirable, is entirely insufficient to holding the powerful to account. To do that truly, the press corps must stop appeasing the bullshit.

1. Originalism
This is the idea that US Supreme Court justices should interpret federal law and the US Constitution “as written,” not as they might wish they were written. It’s a lie. First, “interpret” does not mean “see what you want to see.” It means interpret areas of law that are, as written, unclear. Second, and more importantly, the Constitution is not a simple document. It’s as full of contradictions as America is. It is also a document that’s been rewritten over the course of our history. When someone says “interpret as written,” does that mean in 1789, when slavery was OK, or 1865, when it was abolished? Once you see the lie, you wonder why the Republicans keep telling it.

2. Pro-gun
The Republicans are not “pro-gun.” They are pro-intimidation. They are pro-anarchy. They are pro-vigilante justice. While the Second Amendment is (arguably) about the right to self-defense—as written, it’s about militias and national defense—it does not in any way, shape or form empower one class of people over and at the expense of another class. As it is, Republican jurists have repeatedly seen what they want to see so that the desire for peace and security is second fiddle to the desire for unlimited firepower. It’s no coincidence the Republicans went gun-nuts after the election of the first Black president. Democracy is no longer a means to power. It is now an obstacle.

3. The sanctity of life
This is the idea that “life” is so precious abortion must be outlawed. In fact, “the sanctity of life” is conditional. It doesn’t apply to capital punishment. It doesn’t apply to the sick, hungry and poor. It doesn’t apply to the 550-some immigrant orphans seized at the border and whose parents the government still has not located. And, most importantly, “sanctity” does not apply to “the unborn” when it’s politically inconvenient. Anti-abortionist get mad when “fetal tissue”—actually, stem cells—is used in science. But they were OK when “fetal tissue” saved Donald Trump. Set aside all these political conditions, however, and “the sanctity of life” is totally meaningful.

4. States rights
This is another one of those principles that’s always true to Republicans except when it’s not. States have the right to control their destinies when the federal government is trying to force states to treat non-white human beings as human beings entitled to the blessings of citizenship. But those rights are conditional when it comes time to cut taxes for the obscenely rich and pay for it by stealing from states that did not support a Republican president. Republican justices, meanwhile, always stand for states rights—unless they dampen the fun of undercutting Democratic voters. In 2000, they ordered Florida to stop counting Florida’s votes. A recent ruling has the makings of a repeat.

5. Censorship
Specifically, I’m thinking of the idea that Twitter and other social media platforms censor “conservative” voices. First, Twitter is a private entity. It has the right to refuse to post whatever it does not want for whatever reason. (It does not owe anyone a reason, though.) Second, private entities do not “censor.” Only governments do that. Third, if I, as a private citizen, don’t like what you’re saying, I can tell you freely to shut the hell up. That’s a reaction to your free speech in the form of my free speech. Even if I use violence to silence you, that’s not censorship either. That’s a crime punishable by law. The Republicans do not stand for free speech. They stand against yours.

These are five examples. There are lies aplenty. (Let me know if you want to see more lies debunked in the comments section below.) Though varied, they share a common purpose: creating a system that’s separate but not equal, a lawful republic in which the very rich are free to choose while the rest of us are held responsible for their choices.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. David Mikulec on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    Nicely written. Sharing!

  2. hw on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    Facebook is allowing GOP ads to run unfettered despite their ‘pledge’ to halt political ads 1 week prior to the election while stopping all Democratic ads. Not one MSM interviewer has asked Trump or a GOP Senator about rising autocracy, but they gleefully question Harris about ‘socialism’. MSM has accepted the GOP framing of Barrett as a highly qualified justice, irrespective of her actual history https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/10/amy-coney-barrett-is-the-least-experienced-supreme-court-nominee-in-30-years/ Democratic leadership continues to skirt the issue of uncontrolled fascism, allowing vast segments of society to remain ignorant of the unfathomable dangers ahead. Absent a Democratic tsunami at the polls, and post-election investigations if Trump loses, I struggle to see how the media will change the course that allowed disinformation and propaganda to spread so freely.

  3. Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    Another big lie was in the “original” constitution, viz. that some human beings were three fifths of white land owning males. It goes on and on. “America was founded as a Christian nation.” That’s a lie. Think how many of the founding fathers were Deists. And the lie of “separate but equal? I grew up in GA in the late ’30s and ’40s. The public schools were separate all right. But they were surely not equal. White children went to schools heated by furnaces and with wooden floors. Black children’s schools often had neither. Like you say, John, you can go on and on with exposing the lies. Manifest destiny? That’s a lie clothed in a kind of religious cloak.

  4. Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    The mainstream media has allowed itself to be intimidated by GOPers for far too long. That intimidation has convinced mainstream media personnel and organizations like CNN to provide “balance” by covering right-wing issue framing and garbage narratives as legitimate.

    I also think that the majority of media people can’t wrap their minds around the perfidy of the right-wing fascistic project. That agenda is so alien and antithetical to how halfway decent people operate that it’s literally unbelievable that there exist highly organized forces to crush democracy and institute an authoritarian regime. The right-wingers pay lip service to “freedom”, “justice”, and the “Constitution”, so many media folks are gently deluded into accepting their lies as acceptable discourse and can’t see the true objective of imposing fascism.

    At some point, the mainstream media needs to get real about what’s going on. To me, their engagement in idiotic bothsiderism with right-wingers is as insane as giving equal airtime to child molesters as to victims of child molestation. The fascist project is on full display and the media needs to do its job of protecting America instead of playing games with those who would destroy our country.

  5. Fray on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    Russiagate, invoking God, yep. All the signs of a limp-dick Centrist idiot frothing at the mouth about how Trump is the real issue with America. Not rich people. Not Conservatism. Not the pedophile elite. Trump. Trump is a culmination of these things, and a vote against him will only ensure a slightly better America under Biden. You should probably leave the internet, Johnny.

    • Mars Trip on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

      I don’t follow. Who’s the “limp-dick Centrist?” It seems like you’re referencing the writer
      frothing at the mouth about Trump.” But the piece isn’t about Trump.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

      This a troll.

  6. Garrick Sitongia on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    Another is tax cuts for the wealthy create jobs. In reality, tax cuts make it cheaper to withdraw profits instead of reinvesting in equipment and jobs. An example is after WWII, tax rates where up to 90 percent which spurred the growth that exploded the middle class. If the GOP truly wanted to make America great again as they say, they would do what we know already works.

  7. RUArmyNavyMominTX on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    The healthcare program that our African American president pioneered is unconstitutional, but the phantom health care plan that R’s will someday unveil is “beautiful, the best” and incorporates all the benefits of Obamacare but it’s not Obamacare. See also NAFTA….

  8. RaffleBuffle on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    Also under “free speech” would be the campaign finance thing. Corporations as people when pay-to-play is the setting. (But not, of course when corporations physically harm people, i e, PurduePharma can’t be charged with manslaughter)

    • Scott Sauyet on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

      I think that fixing this would go a large way to solving many problems.

      If corporations want to be treated legally as individuals with individual’s rights, then they should be willing to face the consequences of individual responsibility. Stockholders, corporate boards, executive officers, and even middle management should be legally liable for malfeasance done by their company.

      I’d bet they’d backpedal hard on their free speech and other rights owned by individuals.

  9. Jeanne Marquis on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    This was really informative and well-written. You said to let you know if we’d like to see more lies debunked–yes please! If this article was condensed, I’d love to read the extended version. Thank you!

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