The Age of Progressive Misinformation
How does a stupid and ridiculous lie come to be embraced and promulgated by top officials of the United States government? Well, as it turns out, it’s
easy. You start with an easily misinterpreted news photo that seemingly confirms the assumptions of progressive opponents of immigration enforcement that the agents policing our Southern border are cruel racists. Then, you work up a Twitter mob saying that the photo has captured a tableau of hideous abuse. You add open-borders advocacy organizations and civil rights groups denouncing the supposed misconduct in the harshest possible terms.
You throw on top a vice president and White House press secretary who have no regard for the truth and are happy to push any narrative convenient to them. Finally, as the piece de resistance, you deploy a president of the United States who is too cynical or doddering to bother with the facts and is usually following the crowd rather the leading it and get him to make a statement endorsing the ludicrous fictions about the misleading photo. This was the path to President Joe Biden condemning border patrol agents on horseback for having “strapped” Haiti migrants at Del Rio, Texas, and declaring that they “will pay” for their “horrible” and “outrageous” behavior. Never mind that there was no strapping, that the border agents did nothing wrong besides trying to enforce a border crossing while working for an administration fundamentally uninterested in the task, and that there is an ongoing investigation of the agents — itself a travesty — that Biden was pre-judging.
Sawyer Hackett, an apparatchik running Julian Castro’s PAC, was an early proponent of the whipping lie on Twitter. He tweeted the picture showing a border agent on horseback grabbing at the shirt of a migrant — his reins flying in the air — and said agents were “rounding up Haitian refugees with whips,” and this represented “unfathomable cruelty.”
It was, to the contrary, entirely fathomable and not the least bit cruel. The agents were, in a common, long-standing practice, using horses because of the difficulty of the terrain and attempting to block migrants from entering the country illegally. They didn’t have whips and were twirling reins to control their horses. Within hours of the photo creating a stir, these facts were readily ascertainable.
Even Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas defended the agents before getting the memo from his superiors that they had become hated figures to be used as punching bags.
Days later, media stories still made reference to the nonexistent whips supposedly wielded by the agents.
Advocacy groups simply willed the whip story to be true, and for a swath of America — basically anyone foolish enough to take what Harris and Biden say at face value — they have succeeded.
Despite the haze of misinformation, the factcheckers didn’t descend en masse. No Twitter accounts were suspended. All the people who pride themselves on purportedly defending American democracy from falsehoods and propaganda spreading on social media (and there’s unquestionably a lot of it) stood aside or joined the pile-on. continued from page
Press outfits went out their way to label falsehoods promulgated by President Trump as such, indeed gave every indication that they relished doing it. In contrast, The New York Times story about Biden castigating the agents didn’t suggest that he might be wrong. In fact, the original version of the article reinforced his smear by referring to “the images of agents on horseback chasing, and in some cases using the reins of their horses to strike at running migrants.” The paper had to run a correction.
It’s long been the case on college campuses that woke narratives have the power to trample facts and fairness. This phenomenon has escaped the confines of academe and now plays out at the highest echelons of American political power. Neither hacks on Twitter nor the president of the United States cared what really happened at Del Rio, not when the lie was more seductive and useful.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.