Republicans Have Massively Stepped Up Their Attacks on Fact-Checkers

by | Sep 26, 2023 | Politics, Corruption & Criminality

Image by Cory Doctorow, Openverse

Republicans Have Massively Stepped Up Their Attacks on Fact-Checkers

by | Sep 26, 2023 | Politics, Corruption & Criminality

Image by Cory Doctorow, Openverse

The Putin Caucus in the GOP, along with the fossil fuel billionaires, appear quite pleased that they’ve succeeded in intimidating fact-checkers just in time for the 2024 election.

Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann

The Putin GOP wants misinformation to reign as we head into the 2024 election. Without lies, they can’t win most competitive elections, and they want to keep those lies safe from fact-checking, regardless of what accurate information the voters need or the damage they inflict on our nation.

As a result, Stanford University is considering shutting down their Election Integrity Partnership that calls out political lies across social and mainstream media and their Stanford Media Observatory; other groups that do similar research are also on the brink of shutting down in the face of expensive and time-consuming attacks from Jim Jordan and other Republicans in Congress and from rightwing media.

The Republican attacks on fact-checkers come as increasing numbers of Americans reject Republican policies on everything from gutting Social Security to banning abortion to making it harder for city-dwellers to vote: the new Trumpy GOP has decided that abandoning that whole pesky idea of democracy itself is the way to go.

We see this in Ohio, where the Republican Secretary of State has re-written the description of an abortion-rights ballot measure to confuse voters after losing an attempt to prevent it from showing up on the ballot altogether failed.

We also see it in:

  • Alabama, ignoring the US Supreme Court’s order to strip out the white supremacy from their electoral maps.
  • North Carolina, where Republicans flipped their Supreme Court to overrule its own previous decision to prevent racial gerrymanders benefiting Republicans.
  • Wisconsin where Republicans are trying to impeach a Democratic Supreme Court justice because she opposes their gerrymandered maps.
  • Ohio’s gerrymandering, with Republicans ignoring their own GOP-controlled Supreme Court.
  • Florida, where DeSantis and Republicans passed a permitless gun-carry bill opposed by 77 percent of Floridians and now allow the state to take trans kids away from their families.
  • Tennessee, where Republicans kicked two Democrats out of office for daring to fight for gun safety and civil rights.
  • Red states across the country that have passed laws blocking tens of millions of mostly-city-dwelling American citizens from voting and continue to purge other tens of millions from the voter rolls just before elections.

This is where the lies come in, with Republican politicians routinely lying about everything from Democratic positions on abortion (falsely saying “Democrats support abortion up until the moment of birth and even, horrifically, after that”) to climate change to Ukraine to Republican plans to end or privatize Social Security to crimes committed by Donald Trump.

And that doesn’t begin to count the lies they tell about individual Democrats and the policies they support. As Justin Higgins, a former policy adviser for House Republican Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, told Aaron Rupar:

“You can basically make up your own reality in right-wing media.”

And Jim Jordan wants to keep it that way. The Republican Chair of the House Judiciary and “Weaponization of Government” committees is using his power to harass and intimidate fact-checking organizations at every level.

For example, as The Washington Post reports:

“The National Institutes of Health froze a $150 million program intended to advance the communication of medical information….

“Academics and government scientists say the [Jordan] campaign also is successfully throttling the years-long effort to study online falsehoods, which grew after Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 election caught both social media sites and politicians unaware.”

Republican-aligned social media oligarchs are jumping on the bandwagon. The Washington Post report notes that:

“…12 major media accounts from Russia, China and Iran saw the number of likes and reposts on X nearly double after Musk removed labels calling them government-affiliated.”

Those Russian and Chinese sites have been major sources of lies and disinformation trashing Democrats and democracy while supporting Republican politicians, including Donald Trump. Oligarchic and authoritarian nations, after all, would much rather have America turn into a full-blown strongman state than remain a thorn in their side with all our talk about democracy and human rights.

Musk has also sued the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), alleging the group has engaged in a “scare campaign to drive away advertisers” and is using information technically not their own to identify falsehoods on the Twitter/X platform. Jordan then jumped into the action, accusing the group of taking federal funds that it insists don’t exist.

As The Washington Post noted:

“X also alleged, without offering evidence for its claims, that the CCDH operations were ‘activist organizations masquerading as research agencies, funded and supported by unknown organizations, individuals and potentially even foreign governments with ties to legacy media companies.’”

Republican-controlled appeals courts have even successfully blocked the Biden administration from telling social media companies and other news outlets when they’ve discovered foreign disinformation campaigns promoting lies that are destructive to American public health or our democracy.

Rightwing “news” outlets from Alex Jones to Fox “News” have been successfully sued for tens to hundreds of millions for promulgating lies; now the entire billionaire-supported authoritarian movement is pushing back against fact-checkers with muscle and money.

The Post reports that the attacks by Jordan, Senator Joni Ernst, and others have taken universities and academics who study online lies and disinformation “by surprise.” Numerous experts, not wanting to get embroiled in inquiries and litigation that could cost hundreds of thousands in legal fees, are fleeing the field or moving to private universities, where their work can’t be subpoenaed according to The Washington Post.

Laura Edelson, an assistant professor of computer science at Northeastern University who was formerly the Justice Department’s chief technologist and was investigating online lies, told The Washington Post about her job change:

“I knew that because of the way our field is being attacked that the cost of the work I do is a lot higher at a public institution. I just didn’t want to pay that cost, and that’s why I only applied to private universities.”

As the headline at Raw Story summarizes:

“Jim Jordan blamed for ‘throttling’ safeguards against misinformation before election.”

The Putin Caucus in the GOP, along with the fossil fuel billionaires who continue to fund climate denial online, appear quite pleased that they’ve succeeded in intimidating fact-checkers just in time for the 2024 election.

So now the work of fighting the lies and telling the truth falls to us, to you and me, and our own ability to use social media and networks of friends and family to rebut the lies coming from Moscow, Saudi Arabia, and China via the GOP.

Tag, we’re it!

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.

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