The New Landscape
In 1994 when Betsy McCaughey wrote her piece in The New Republic full of lies abut the Clinton health care reform bill, the DC establishment accepted it uncritically because, well, she was in The New Republic, and nobody liked these Clinton outsiders anyway, and there was virtually no countervailing opinion independent of the White House that offered any refutation of her claims. The Village was the one and true arbiter of her story, and their acceptance of it colored the entire health care debate from that point forward.
Fast forward to 2009, and another fallacious McCaughey claim based on a clear misreading of legislative language makes the rounds of conservative media. Her claim that health information technology and comparative effectiveness research would cause rationing and give big gubmint a veto over your medical care is ridiculous. Only this time, a mainstream reporter actually chronicled how that conservative media puke funnel reinforces itself and creates opinion where there are only lies. And then a cable news show thoroughly debunks the lie in a long segment. And a series of blog posts reveal that McCaughey is on the board of directors of a medical device company and therefore has a conflict of interest over stopping comparative effectiveness studies, or that she received stock options from that company days before writing her flase op-ed in Bloomberg, or that the think tank she works at is funded by drug companies. As Ezra Klein says, this is a very new age:
Will Olbermann's segment on McCaughey end her relevance? Probably not. But it -- along with the blog posts, and inevitable columns -- will be part of what any CNN producer sees if he wants to run a segment on McCaughey the next morning. It will be part of what an NPR editor reads when she's researching a show. None of this progressive infrastructure existed in 1994. She published her smear job in an influential journal of putatively liberal opinion that was being edited by a self-professed conservative and it quickly become the conventional wisdom. This time, such arguments will not go unchallenged. That doesn't mean they will disappear. McCaughey's arguments are already taking root in the fertile swamp of talk radio. But it will be much harder for such bits of disingenuous nonsense to cement themselves in the center. And by the same token, it will be much easier for liberals to make, and disseminate, their own arguments.
I don't know if that's entirely true - there's nothing the Village likes more than to be willingly blind, and they'll probably opt for a "teach the controversy" approach - but that's better than the 1994 landscape.
Sometimes I definitely feel like I'm spitting into the wind out in the lonely blogosphere, and yet letting smears go unchallenged and letting progressive ideas get sandbagged is no longer an option. There is a progressive infrastructure now that can at least get a piece of the spotlight through relentless effort. It ought to actually be funded (greetings, liberal angels!), but even today it does have an impact.