RVA Politics is a blog about politics in the state of Virginia And the capital city of Richmond.

The author is a political scientist. Please don't hold that against him.

 

On "Fake news": Dave Brat is not helping

There's been a lot of talk about "fake news" lately. I agree with Deadspin's Albert Burneko that the term has become pretty useless, and that we’re actually talking about is mostly internet hoaxes. Posts on Facebook and elsewhere that claim Obama has banned the Pledge of Allegiance of that the Pope endorsed Trump have proven disturbingly easy to spread. As a college professor and longtime Snopes reader (my favorite deep cut: Mikey did not die from pop rocks and soda), I was pretty ticked off to see one of our local officials including such a hoax in a fundraising e-mail.

I get all sorts of e-mail newsletters from a variety of local pols. Congressman Dave Brat represents the nearby VA 7th, and is a former colleague of mine at Randolph-Macon College, so I pay particular attention to his. The "Friends of Dave Brat" campaign organization sent a note out Thursday looking for funds and informing Brat's followers of the latest from Washington; on the face of it, this was nothing more than a typical piece of perpetual fundraising that is unfortunately required of our representatives.

Brat is a pretty vocal opponent of Obamacare, so it's not surprising that he's been making a big deal about recent attempts by the Republican-led Congress to repeal it. Evidence that his preferred replacement will actually help Americans is pretty spotty, but I’m not taking issue with Brat's policies. Instead, it's his casual willingness to spread false information.

Here’s the offending paragraph (emphasis mine):

With reports that one third of the country may soon have just a single insurer to choose from, we need to take action now to avoid further disaster. To be sure, many believe that Obamacare was written purposely in a way to doom it to failure, so that single payer healthcare would be the final result. We need to shrink our federal bureaucracy, not expand it, and a government take-over of our healthcare system has never been, and will never be, an acceptable alternative.

This is, uh, not true. Like, completely and totally. Obamacare was a sincere, if flawed, effort to expand healthcare options for millions of Americans.

The offhand presentation of this sentence is what really gets me here: "To be sure, some people believe some crap they read on the internet." The offending sentence includes the great and cowardly “some people believe” phrase that, like its cousin “people are talking about X,” lets you state whatever dumb theory or lie you want to without having to own it. “I’m not saying this baseless rumor.  Still, ‘some people’ are, so who am I not to circulate it?”

Just to be clear: if you spend five minutes listening to anyone who was involved in the Obama Administration (like these guys), you’ll see how invested they are in defending Obamacare. Spend five minutes more and you’ll see how little evidence there is for Brat's "many believe" claim, beyond a speculative blog post from a conservative (and confused) doctor and a few offhand (and misinterpreted) statements from guys like Harvard Prof Jacob Hacker and Senator Harry Reid.

I’ll be even clearer: the idea that Obamacare was "designed to fail" is stupid on its face, and completely and utterly unsupported by any evidence. Brat -- and the staffer who likely wrote this e-mail -- should not be using this BS idea as part of an argument against the legislation, or to raise money from his supporters.

This is how hoaxes become normalized. Brat needs to cut it out.

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