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Health Care Mobs = Swift Boat Vets... And the Press Plays Dumb, Again

Mini-mob members being treated as deeply important newsmakers is reminiscent of August 2004.

Here we go again.

During August's summer daze, right-wing mini-mobs (egged on by corporate interests) have run wild at town hall meetings, propagating all kinds of smears and misinformation in an effort to derail an important Democratic campaign. Yet the mini-mob members have been treated as deeply important newsmakers by the press during a slow summer news month.

Sound familiar? Recall August 2004, when the right-wing Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (egged on by corporate interests) stole a month's worth of campaign headlines by propagating all kinds of smears and misinformation in an attempt to derail an important Democratic campaign. Yet they were treated as deeply important newsmakers by the press during a slow summer news month.

Honestly, the only thing missing this time around is a crackpot, best-selling book. In 2004, the Swifties used the release of Unfit for Command to launch their media-based smear campaign. This summer, it could have been something like ObamaScare: How Liberal Health Care Will Destroy America. (The Swifties' right-wing publisher must be kicking itself over the missed marketing opportunity.)

But what has been perfectly consistent is the way the press has, again, fallen for a right-wing smear campaign and dressed it up as news. Just as with the Swifties, the press has turned over its summer coverage to a band of agitators spreading misinformation. Five summers ago, the Swift Boat Vets helped hijack the election. They lied about documents, they lied about eyewitness, and they lied about their partisan affiliations and connections. For several crucial weeks during the campaign, journalists turned away from the pile-up of Swift Boat falsehoods and contradictions, rarely daring to call the Swift Boat attack out for what it really was -- a hoax. Too spooked by the GOP Noise Machine and its charge of liberal media bias, the press propped up the Vets as serious men and showered them with attention.

This year, the press has handed over untold hours of free airtime to mini-mob members whose sole purpose seems to be to spread as much fear as possible. (The ones who show up toting guns and Nazi posters make that point rather emphatically.)

Fringe players on the right are making wild accusations that cannot be backed up by fact. The mainstream media response? We must cover the phenomenon daily, even hourly!

So, day after August day, these vacuous health care "debates" are aired on cable television, just as news consumers suffered through night after night of vacuous Swift Boat "debates" five summers ago. In both cases, the press for the most part handed in its referee's whistle and focused its attention on simply reporting the fact-free claims and then getting the Democratic response. (i.e. he said/she said.) It turns out journalists are petrified of calling out right-wing activists as liars, and the other side knows it.

What's amazing is that even a conservative Republican congressman has conceded that the mini-mobs (this summer's news superstars) appear to be completely detached from reality. "You cannot build a movement on something that is not credible,'' Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina told the Los Angeles Times after being confronted by belligerent, fact-free protesters who were convinced that as part of health care reform, children would soon be forced to receive swine flu vaccinations. "At town meetings, the hostility went straight through to hysteria,'' said Inglis.

The "town hells" are really just mob rule masquerading as a health care debate, masquerading as direct democracy. Sadly, the news media are hyping both phony story lines. The press is taking the fringe players seriously, even the ones who spend their free time drawing up Obama-is-Hitler posters.

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