What am I talking about?
Lies like smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer or climate change isn’t happening (or it’s seemingly more acceptable variant: it is happening but humans aren’t causing it). Both are lies. And both have been spread systematically by right-wing, conservative think tanks, self-proclaimed experts, and politicians.
The smoking-lung cancer link is one of the strongest public health findings ever, yet, the tobacco industry has paid billions to discredit it. And even though they might not get away with it as blatantly anymore as they used to, they are still influencing the debates, now often around e-cigarettes and marijuana. Once the money dried up for the “experts” who were defending tobacco, they moved to a new deep pocket payer: The fossil fuel industry. Often the very same people who claimed to be experts on smoking are now climate experts. Seriously? That alone ought to give us pause. Climate is very complicated and to think that (claimed) expertise in smoking speeds up the learning process is preposterous (and insulting to the real scientists who have devoted their lives to the topic). Of course, those experts are expert at something else entirely: Spin and lies.
These right-wing think tanks, with the help of Fox news, have systematically changed the political landscape around climate change. Just when Republicans were ready to support mitigating measures because they saw the threat climate change poses, the industry started funneling money (or more likely, far more) into these entities and to those politicians – to sow doubt. They were able to shift public opinion and more importantly convince several vocal Republican politicians that climate change isn’t real (or at least not caused by humans) and that we don’t have to do anything about it. Now we even have a president-elect who is part of that highly paid crowd. The consequences for most of us are disastrous. The evidence that climate change is highly disruptive is already accumulating: From extreme weather to the crisis in Syria with some increase in allergies and spread of viruses thrown in. As the impact of climate change becomes more severe, we can expect public health, economic, and political crises.
Yet, the manipulation of the facts to benefit the few in a certain industry has not been called out in the discussion around fake news. If we’re lucky, spin around (Democratic) candidates’ birth places or their email usage will be lessened (I doubt it) but we’ll certainly not see Facebook pulling climate change denial posts. This discussion has also not addressed the systematic nature of these efforts to spread doubt and misinformation. Chris Mooney has documented a lot of it in his book The Republican Brain. So have Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway in their book Merchants of Doubt. These aren’t fringe outlets spreading them. There are well-funded think tanks and news outlets behind it. (And just to throw in a stab at the mainstream media: The fact that they keep picking up news stories from Fox is very troubling. Fox fabricates news out of thin air; this stuff ought not be spread without serious fact-checking, which the MSM does not do or only after they have already spread the lies. Retraction don’t get a lot of attention…)
The bottom line is this: The Tea-Party-Republicans and other conservatives have not only shifted further to the right (the fascist, authoritarian right), they also have been involved in highly immoral actions. They are manipulating voting districts and rights to benefit them through gerrymandering and voter suppression. This is undermining the very fabric of the U.S. democracy, which is possibly the point. They are also disrespecting scientific facts and are forcing all of us to pay the consequences. Given that they self-enrich in the process, they are likely able to mitigate the consequences to them, although climate change likely won’t respect property boundaries. Still, it is an outrage that people who have this little respect for the truth are now in full power.