Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Default Conservative Response to Inconvenient Facts is to Cry "Liar!"

Many of you have probably been following the horrific story of a ten-year old rape victim from Ohio who was forced to travel to Indiana to have an abortion following her home state's criminalization of the procedure.

No doubt some of you witnessed a collective right-wing response to the story, which was simply to declare it a lie. The Wall Street Journal editorial board called the story "too good to confirm". Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan (R) called it "another lie". National Review contributor Michael Brendan Dougherty called it a "fictive abortion and a fictive rape." Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost suggested the story was a fabrication because he hadn't heard a "whisper" about such a rape case from local law enforcement officials. It was everywhere.

Then the story was (further) confirmed, and those who called it a lie retreated with various amounts of egg on their face. Which is to say, they mostly said they were right to assume the story was made up even though it wasn't.

This has been the main meta-media response to the controversy: agreeing that there were "red flags" about the story such as its "weird timing" that meant we should all have taken very seriously the collective right-wing declaration that the story was a hoax, even though it turns out to have been horrifyingly true.

There were no significant "red flags" here. It is not suspicious that the Indianapolis Star did not publish the name, address, photograph, and social security number of a minor rape victim. It is not "weird" that stories of the horrible consequences of criminalizing abortion would begin to emerge shortly after abortion was criminalized. Obviously, if there is actual evidence of malfeasance or fabrication, one should look into that. But that wasn't present here.*

No, what happened here is very straightforward: A story was published that constituted an inconvenient fact for conservatives. So they declared it to be a lie. That's it. That's all that prompted the reaction. No "red flags", no "reasonable grounds to question". The story was inconvenient, and the response was to cry "liar!"

If we had to do meta-coverage of this story, that's what should have been the frame. It is, after all, the same basic instinct that motivated the cries that the 2020 election was "stolen". What prompted those cries was not any "evidence" or "suspicions" or "red flags". Biden winning was an inconvenient fact, and the default right-wing response to an inconvenient fact is to declare it a lie. Same reason why January 6 insurrectionists are declared to be "antifa". Same reason why mass shootings are alleged to be false flags. Same thing for global warming, same thing for whether Israeli soldiers shot Shireen Abu Aqleh, same thing for Trump's connections with Russia. This is not something occurring in isolation. It is a pattern of behavior, and a deeply dangerous one at that. It's always a lie, it's always "fake news".

So if the media wanted to soul-search its coverage, it should start there. What does it mean that conservatives now reflexively and instinctively declare any story that troubles their ideological waters to be a lie, and what does it mean that the media still views those cries as having credence?

This response, after all, is toxic to the proper functioning of democratic politics. Yet rather than identify it for what it is, let alone push back on it, the media aids and abets it with thumb-sucking self-abnegations agreeing "questions were raised." No they weren't! The mere fact that Republicans don't like a given fact or event or story about the world is not and should not be enough for the media to agree that its truth is up for dispute.

So that's the story I want to see. I want a deep dive into how conservatives have begun calling any inconvenient fact a lie. I want a clear and unvarnished explication of the pattern of behavior, contextualizing the most recent instance by reference to other prominent cases where they've run that same playbook. I want comments from self-reflective journalists about why these unevidenced cries of "liar" are given credence, and whether it is appropriate to continue to give credence to those cries going forward.

That's the metastory. Someone should get on it.

Oh, and for those of you wondering: now that the story has been fully confirmed, conservatives are sweeping into action ... by launching a criminal investigation of the doctor who cared for the child and proposing legislation that would criminalizing giving the child an abortion in Indiana. Because the current Republican orthodoxy is that adolescent rape victims should have to give birth or die trying.

* The closest exception I'll cop to is the Ohio Attorney General saying he hadn't heard of such a case, with the strong implication that if the case existed he would have known about it. But since it turned out there was such a case, the proper response for the media going forward is to treat Attorney General Yost as presumptively uncredible unless proven otherwise. Of course, the actual response will be to continue to treat uncorroborated declarations by Yost as rock-hard proof, while spinning in circles to explain why a doctor going on the record about an event they have first-hand knowledge about is too flimsy to take seriously.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Is Relief an Independent Emotion?

This may be one of those thoughts that made more sense at 2 AM last night, but I want to run with it.

The other day, I decided that "relief" was an emotion I felt very strongly. Some people get really angry, some people get really sad, some people get really happy -- I get really relieved.

And then I thought: does that make any sense? Doesn't "relief" necessarily have to piggyback on another emotion -- and that's the emotion you feel strongly or weakly?

If you're stressed about something, and that something resolves itself, you feel relief. If you feel a strong sense of relief, one might say that one has significant propensity for relief (in the same way that if you feel a strong sense of anger, you might say you have a propensity for anger). That was my initial thought -- relief hits me hard. But then I wondered whether that was a coherent thing to say, or whether the underlying stressor is what I feel strongly, and a strong sense of relief is simply the mirror image of that.

The answer must lie in whether it is possible to feel very relieved about something that is only moderately stressing you. I think that characterizes me -- I love the feeling of catharsis even without the underlying tension -- but it still doesn't quite feel like it makes sense.

Thoughts welcome.