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The Year of the Big Lie: 6 Outrageous Falsehoods That Took Flight in 2010

From Breitbart's smear of Shirley Sherrod to Glenn Beck's use of Mein Kampf to malign George Soros, right-wing and mainstream media embrace the Big Lie.

In a political year dominated by tales of polarization, a flurry of themes emerged as I contemplated the year just past -- the year of the Tea Party, the year that psycho became the new normal (Glenn Beck), the year in which info leaks rocked the world (WikiLeaks), the year that saw accomplishments defying conventional wisdom (Obama). But at the root of all of these themes lies the Lie; all other themes speak to either its advancement or in its defiance.

In the politics of 2010, the Big Lie, in both its gigantic and more attenuated forms, was almost always deployed in the service of corporations. It may not be so obvious at the surface, especially when the Lie dubs the nation's first black president a racist, or labels a Jewish holocaust survivor an anti-Semite, but the ultimate aim of the Lie in these contexts is to discredit purveyors of ideas and policies that certain corporate leaders and shills find threatening to their quest for all the world's riches.

What follows is a mere sampling of some of the defining lies of 2010, not presented in any particular order of importance, for they're all of a piece.

The Big Lie

The Big Lie theory goes like this: A gigantic, audacious lie is more likely to be believed by the masses than a small one if it is repeated often enough. First articulated in the pages of Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler (who attributed the practice, of course, to Jews) and deployed as a tactic by Nazi master propagandist Joseph Goebbels, the Big Lie went mainstream in 2010, as its propagators on the Right were accepted by big media as respectable articulators of a legitimate point of view. These include Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and numerous other Republican officials and Tea Party leaders who, in our first Big Lie, refer to the 2010 passage of health-care reform legislation as " a government takeover of health care." The non-partisan named this assertion the lie of the year -- an award that will likely have no impact on the issue's framing, since media figures generally fail to challenge the assertion when it's made.

Sometimes Big Lies are personal, targeting a figure whose appearance or background plays to the prejudices of a particular constituency. An attempt to lay just one such Big Lie to rest finds Neil Abercrombie, the newly elected Democratic governor of Hawaii, seeking to release data on the birth of President Barack Obama in his state 49 years ago in an effort to appease birthers -- those who have bought into the lie that Obama was born in Africa, not America, which would make him ineligible for the presidency. Really, Abercrombie needn't bother: the Tea Partiers who doubt the president's birthright will never be satisfied with any level of proof. They're far too invested in the lie.

Perhaps that's why Andrew Breitbart, the right-wing Web site impresario, author of our second Big Lie of the year, thought he could get away with targeting an unknown U.S. Department of Agriculture official, Shirley Sherrod, through the creative editing of a video taken of Sherrod's remarks to a local NAACP gathering.

Brietbart was ripping mad when the NAACP passed a resolution at its national convention that called on Tea Party leaders to repudiate racism within its ranks. The clip was edited to convey the opposite message of Sherrod's remarks, which addressed how she overcame her own prejudice against a white farmer she assisted in the course of her job duties. But before Breitbart's lie was exposed, the Obama administration fired Sherrod (who was later offered another job at USDA). The story immediately became about the video clip as Breitbart presented it, and Sherrod's firing. It wasn’t until the next day that the Lie was exposed.