Friday, January 27, 2006

Hyping Fear: As Texas Congressmen tell big fat lies, where are media factcheckers?

Over the years I've reluctantly come to agree with Nietzche's assertion that conviction is a greater enemy to truth than lies.

But lies don't help.


I'm already sick of the phony "immigrants as terrorists" meme our Texas Congressmen are promoting out in the world. First it was Republican John Culberson lying to Fox News announcing that Al Quaeda members had been caught crossing the border in Hudspeth County.
("First," Osama said, "we'll knock down the World Trade Center. Then we'll take Salt Flat.") That got hyped for a week, then the retraction was basically a blurb by comparison.

Then last Sunday, the Austin Statesman repeated without attribution the unfounded charge that the Salvadoran youth gang MS-13 is a "terrorist" group. ("
New breed of street gang spreads through Texas, US: MS-13 viewed as terrorists by feds," Jan. 22) Despite the headline, no federal official was quoted in the article making such a claim.

So where did it come from? Well, Democratic Congressman Solomon Ortiz told the same unfounded fib to a House Committee last year. The first time I saw the allegation was in the Beaumont Enterprise ("
Gang's number growing" Dec. 4, 2005), but they at least had the courtesy to source the charges, and to debunk them:
Even more startling, MS-13 reportedly has connections to al-Qaida, according to information on the Web site of U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi. Central American police have said al-Qaida was trying to recruit MS-13 gang members to smuggle large sums of money into the country, Ortiz testified in March before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security.

Customs agents say there are no confirmed connections between al-Qaida and MS-13.
So Congressman Ortiz said this is happening, but agents in charge of border security don't know anything about it. Either this man needs to be deputized and sent into the field, since his incredible intelligence-gathering skills obviously surpass the combined efforts of the nation's entire homeland security apparatus, or he just made it up to grab headlines, like Culberson did.

Now on his website, Ortiz stops short of repeating this claim, but plays the terrorism card nonetheless: "there is the real possibility that terrorists can – or already are – exploiting this series of holes in our law enforcement system along the southern border" he says without a hint of factual support.
(Governor Rick Perry does the same thing.)

This sort of speculative rhetoric is common, since it can't be disproven, but it's just a way for blowhards to pass the time, not based on any formal threat assessment. (After all, the guys on the planes on 9/11 came in through major airports.) If it doesn't make anyone safer, then, why would Texas Congressmen lie? Here's my theory (not an original one, mind you): Congressmen have a bipartisan interest in the same ignominious media strategy that we're seeing play out in these quotes:

Hype. Fear.


It draws federal pork dollars to your district.


Hype. Fear.


It re-elects incumbents.


Hype. Fear.


It gets you quoted in the media, and helps them sell advertising.


Hype. Fear.


It lets the speaker feel self-important and talk down to his constituents.


Hype. Fear.
After a while it becomes a reflex for some politicians, it works so well.

Are you sick of it yet? I am.

9 comments:

Catonya said...

As you know I've touched on this a few times. Fact checkers and investigative reporters should both be on the endangered species list.

Somewhat unrelated but interesting...a friend told me about something they read years ago. It was basically a how to on the building of a communist society. One of the 'steps' was distracting the public by getting them interested in sports and entertainment.
Not saying our gov't is attempting a switch to communism. It is a good springboard for deeper thought about government and media in general though.

Have a great weekend.

markm said...

It hasn't happened - which IMO might suggest that either whatever is left of Al Qaida's leadership is terminally stupid, or their ability to launch operations is approaching nil. What better way is there for terrorists to sneak into this country than to learn a little Spanish and mix in with the millions of others crossing illegally?

Unless, of course, they can use their status as Saudi royal relatives to enter openly...

Bill_M said...

Markm, the reason, I suspect, that Al Qaeda has not and will not seriously try to sneak across the boarder is that the coyotes and smugglers would turn them in in a heartbeat.

There is no nexus of interests between Al Qaeda and smugglers. Yes, Al Queda could pay smugglers, but they are already making fine money. If they were to in any way support terrorist operations in the US, the entire weight of the admittedly clumsy but still very power American military and covert forces would be focused on them in an instant. They would be destroyed.

Smugglers have a good thing going, and I don't imagine they'll let Al Qaeda muck it up.

Anonymous said...

No doubt that politicians suck, but common sense screams to me that insecure borders in the south are a threat whether breached by al Qaeda or by drug peddlers or by the more common street criminals like MS13.

According to the saying, it only takes one bad apple to spoil a whole barrel.

We have a lot of Mexicans where I live. Mexicans are fun to party with, they have beautiful women, and they are hard workers. I would much prefer to live with a bunch of illegal Mexicans than a bunch of wild-eyed liberals any day. But that doesn't mean it is wise to turn a blind eye to what sure seems to be a valid threat.

See the news about the cross-border tunnel? Was that hype, or fear?

-D

Anonymous said...

Catonya, you forgot about porn.

-D

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@D: "Common sense" dictates much that evidence debunks or fails to confirm -- Al Quaeda collaborating with coyotes or MS-13 to cross the border is one such moment. It may seem possible it COULD be true. That will always be inarguable, because it's unprovable either way. My only argument here is that the evidence that it IS true so far has all been flat-out lies.

@ markm: In the for what it's worth department, my own theory is that there have been no more attacks because the 9/11 attacks achieved their goal. As Richard Clarke noted in his book, Bin Laden wanted Bush to invade Iraq, and he did, strategically exposing American interests and overextending her imperial might. From that perspective, the only strategic reason for Al Quaeda to attack again would be if America pulled out. As you point out, the reason isn't because they can't make it through the borders.

Cat, you're reading my mind about that endangered species list. Best,

markm said...

bill_m: Yes, the coyotes would either turn them in in a heartbeat or bury them out in the desert if they were stupid enough to reveal that they were terrorists. However, if they kept their mouths shut, lost their turbans, and didn't speak Arabic or pray towards Mecca, I think it would be easy enough to find a coyote that would take their money and ask no questions. Or they might think they know enough about hiking across the desert to get a map and strike out on their own.

OTOH, the Canadian border might be a worse threat. Canadian policy towards immigrants and visitors with known terrorist connections has been almost suicidally lax. (Maybe the new Conservative PM will try to change this, but I think bureaucratic inertia will delay any real change for years.) Worse, if the Mexican border is difficult to secure, the Canadian is much worse. Terrorists have been caught trying to get through major checkpoints - but I'm not sure there's as much as a fence in some rural areas, there's twice as much border, and much of it has dense forests that help hide hikers. Other parts of the border are lakes and rivers, crossed all the time by boaters who are basically on their honor to check in with the authorities. The best security we've got out there is simply citizens that might wonder what a bunch of Arabs were doing out in the woods - but it takes more than that for probable cause, and it's not impossible for Arabs to disguise their ethnic origin.

Anonymous said...

Downplaying the threat posed by MS-13 is intellectually dishonest. These people are monsters. And they are spreading their criminal activities throughout the United States.

Perhaps we SHOULD treat them like terrorists, and get them out of this country.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No one's downplaying anything, anonymous. There are plenty of REAL threats we KNOW we have to worry about without imagaining what might happen if Al Quaed decides to swim the river instead of coming in through the airport (which all evidence shows is their most likely avenue) or across the virtually unguarded Canadian border. If MS-13 are committing crimes, they'll be arrested for them, and if they're here illegally, they'll be deported when their sentence is done.