Politics & Media
Feb 09, 2024, 06:27AM

Fact-Checking the Conspirators

Viewing current events with a copyeditor’s eye.

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I’m a copyeditor and fact-checker, and temperamentally suited for that kind of work. Recently, I spent some time mulling whether the headline of a Tom Joyce piece at Splice Today, “Let Rich, White Liberals Show How Much They Like Migrants,” should have the comma between “Rich” and “White.” Are they coordinate adjectives (applying equally to a noun) or cumulative adjectives (with one secondary and the order mattering)? If the latter, there should be no comma. You don’t care? I do.

Subtleties of language play out in political arguments. In the case of the Joyce piece, one might wonder what proportion of liberals are rich and/or white, how their richness and/or whiteness relate to their obligation to “show” how much they like migrants, and whether non-rich, non-white liberals (assuming such a category exists) have different views or less obligation to show their views. One isn’t really supposed to think about those things, though. The point of wording such as Joyce’s is to evoke a stereotype and smack it, hoping readers will dislike those notional liberals as much as Joyce does.

Damon Linker’s Substack newsletter Notes from the Middleground, which I find a valuable source of political commentary despite (or because) I don’t broadly share its pessimism, has some recent posts that spurred more copyediting/fact-checking thoughts. In one, “Republican Dreams of Political Domination,” I noticed the admittedly-trivial matter of a sub-headline, “Compromise is For Suckers,” defying stylistic conventions about the capitalization of verbs and prepositions in headlines. On substance, Linker cogently argues that “a fantasy of untrammeled one-party rule” took root on the right in the early-1990s Newt Gingrich era (including, I note, with GOPAC materials counseling Republicans on language) and has grown in prevalence. Linker’s use of the term “strongman,” while framed critically, gives a glimpse of authoritarian’s dangerous terminological allure. People might want a “strong man.”

Another Linker post, “The Right’s New Abnormal Normal,” contends that conspiracy theories, such as the one circulating about Taylor Swift, though absurd, may be politically effective. He outlines a two-step process: “First, the online right galvanizes and mobilizes a growing base of conspiracy-addled voters with chum, ranging from Twitter memes to QAnon to bullshit about Pentagon psyops, pop stars, football players, deadly vaccine mandates, and other paranoid nonsense; second, the GOP uses negative partisanship to keep more normie Republican and Republican-leaning voters on side when the time comes to cast ballots.” That strikes me as grimly plausible. An unfortunate additional factor, I’ve observed as an editor, is that confronting claptrap can encourage critics’ own intellectual standards to slip. I recently copyedited and fact-checked a manuscript that derided the Swift conspiracy theory, and right-wing misinformation more broadly, but was loaded with errors itself, requiring painstaking fixes.

I was at my car dealer on Route 17 in New Jersey recently, waiting for a new pump for my windshield wiper fluid, when a sixtysomething guy came in and started bombastically talking politics to another, older, guy, who’d occasionally interject an approving comment. The first guy had numerous right-wing talking points memorized, and I sat there looking up everything he said on my laptop, since he was too loud for me to do any paying work. He spouted one falsehood after another, for example that George Soros has been banned in six countries (his charity was banned in Russia), or that following Trump’s ordered killing of “the Iranian general” (Qassem Soleimani), there was nothing but “crickets,” since Iran was too frightened of Trump to retaliate (Iran fired missiles at a U.S. base in Iraq, causing over 100 brain injuries). The guy also said that “Biden’s one of the three dumbest men in America” and that “Obama’s actually running the country,” neither of which was readily checkable.

Follow Kenneth Silber on Threads: @kennethsilber

  • Feb. 12. I'm back at the car dealer, and the zeitgeist has shifted. Sales guy says "She didn't endorse him,. She went to all that trouble to rig the NFL, and then didn't endorse him." Auto-parts girl replies: "It's OK. Kelce is doing Pfizer ads. They're planting the seeds."

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