The $16 Muffin and Other Beloved Zombie Lies
I’m not a creature of habit, but I try to be. Every night, I try to do the same thing, to make it easier to get to sleep. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are part of that. I watch them both, which begins the “go to bed” launch sequence. Obviously, this throws me off when there are reruns, but for the most part it works.
So last night I was watching TDS. The guest was Bill O’Reilly, who was hawking some book about the Lincoln assassination that a ghostwriter whipped up for him. Stewart called him out on his ridiculous “Obama’s making it too expensive to be rich” argument and O’Reilly went straight to government spending. What about the $16 dollar muffin?
Stewart admitted that he hadn’t heard about this $16 muffin thing, which isn’t extremely surprising; it was one of those rightwing blogosphere “scandals” with the shelf-life of an unrefrigerated popsicle. Stewart probably missed it because he blinked.
Basically, the story worked like this; an audit from the Inspector General for the Department of Justice found that the Capitol Hilton in Washington overcharged a 2099 Justice Department Legal Training Conference — which O’Reilly described as “a bunch of conferences for pinheads” — for refreshments. The hotel was apparently given a budget and it exceeded it by the slimmest of amounts.
The “$16 muffin” came from a poorly itemized invoice and some quick, back-of-the-envelope accounting — i.e., a bunch of other stuff was listed in a column marked “muffins.” “So did DOJ really pay $16 for muffins?” Kevin Drum wrote at the time. “Of course not. In fact, it’s obvious that someone quite carefully calculated the amount they were allowed to spend and then gave the hotel a budget. The hotel agreed, but for some reason decided to divide up the charges into just a few categories instead of writing a detailed invoice for every single piece of food they provided.”
So how much did this overrun cost the taxpayers? Two cents per attendee — or about ten and a half bucks total. It’s an outrage, I tells ya! And never mind that this isn’t actually a story about runaway government spending, so much as it is a cautionary tale about trusting the private sector to keep costs down. Hilton screwed this one up, not the DOJ. But since it’s only ten bucks, who even cares? I’d be willing to bet that after all is said and done, the hotel will wind up swallowing the overrun, since it’s really next to nothing.
Did O’Reilly know any of this? Maybe, maybe not. If we assume he wasn’t lying when he said the story came from “a bunch of conferences for pinheads,” then we can assume that O’Reilly didn’t dig very deeply into the story in the first place. If his grasp of the story was so weak initially, it’s possible that he never saw the debunking. This would be especially likely if he relied on his own employer to set the record straight.
This is nothing new for rightwing media. They rely on “scandal of the day” reporting to sustain their outrage, so of course most of these “scandals” turn out to be a big wad of nothing. But when that big wad of nothing is revealed to be a big wad of nothing, rightwing media news consumers never find out. Corrections and retractions are an endangered species in conservative news outlets and, in the wingnut blogosphere, they’re almost completely extinct.
Take for example this Daily Caller piece from Matthew Boyle. In it, he claims that court records show the EPA plans to spend $21 billion to hire “230,000 new government workers to process all the extra paperwork.” Needless to say, it’s all crap. Media Matters has the full debunking, but I think I can encapsulate it thusly: Boyle is either an idiot or a liar.
Basically, he relies on court documents to make his claim. And these documents don’t show plans to hire hundreds of thousands of new bureaucrats at a cost of tens of billions. What the documents show is that the EPA ruled out one method of monitoring greenhouse gases because it would require hundreds of thousands of new bureaucrats at a cost of tens of billions. Boyle grabbed some quotes about what the rejected method would cost, then ran with them as if they were the plan. Boyle has the story exactly backwards. He’s just about as wrong as it’s possible to be. I’m going to go ahead and call Matthew Boyle grossly incompetent, because it’s a terrible thing to accuse someone of being a liar. And those are really the only two choices.
But of course this was another “scandal of the day” and everyone on the right was clawing their eyes out over it. Never mind that the EPA doesn’t even have $21 billion to throw around — it only has an $8.7 billion budget — this was true, true, true as far as they were concerned.
And, as far as their readers know, it still is. There is no retraction or correction at Boyle’s steaming pile of what he pretends is journalism. Follow the link and you get the story as it first appeared. A lot of wingnut bloggers and even organizations like Fox News and National Review linked to that story as a source. Anyone who follows those links will think they’ve confirmed the story’s accuracy, when the story is 100% bass-ackward of the truth. Which goes a long way toward explaining why rightwingers tend to believe a bunch of stuff that everyone else knows isn’t true.
Maybe Bill O’Reilly knows the truth about the $16 muffin and he’s just using a debunked story to push his agenda, which would make him a liar. Or maybe he’s just an incompetent hack who has no idea what the hell he’s talking about and relies on rightwing media to get him his “facts.” I don’t know.
But I do know that it’s a terrible thing to call someone a liar.
Stories to Watch: 7/28/11
Google News keeps changing the URLs to their RSS feeds. It’s pissing me off. Stop it, Google. Now here’s the news…
The vote on Boehner’s debt limit plan has been delayed — meaning he hasn’t got the votes yet. I’m hearing a lot of people saying they don’t doubt it’ll get through the House, but none of these people bother to explain how, exactly.
In related news, Michele Bachmann demonstrates why she has a reputation for being not so awfully bright.
And par for the course, House Republicans have no backup plan for a scenario where the Senate fails to pass Boehner’s plan — a near certainty, even if he can manage to get his own chamber to clear it.
Apparently, there are two Rick Perrys: one who’s for tentherism and one for federalism. They ought to get together and debate each other.
At this point, I’d imagine people on both sides of the aisle wish that Sarah Palin would just shut the hell up.
Rupert’s phone-hacking mess just keeps getting worse — and more appalling.
Seeing that you can’t please anyone on the debt limit debate,Mittens Romney is avoiding it altogether. That there’s your “courageous leadership.”
Finally, if you missed The Daily Show last night, go catch up.
News Roundup for 1/25/11
Would it surprise you to learn this guy’s a dick?
-Headline of the day-
“Rep. Peter King: ‘80 Percent Of Mosques In This Country Are Controlled By Radical Imams’.”
GOP Rep. Peter King of New York went on the Laura Ingraham Show, reached into his pants, and pulled a completely made-up statistic out of his butt. This being talk radio — and, specifically, Ingraham’s radio show — such behavior is encouraged.
Asked how many mosques in America were “infected” with “radical jihad sentiment,” Petey answered that “over 80 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by radical Imams.”
His source for this claim? I mentioned it already. It was his ass. According to the report, “For his part, King has said he is willing to be called a ‘bigot’ if that’s what it takes to continue his witchhunt into Muslim American communities.”
Mission accomplished there, Pete. You’re a bigot.
Now, how do you feel about being called an asshole? (Think Progress)
Jon Stewart catches Fox’s Megyn Kelly claiming that no one on her network ever compares anyone to Nazis.
Bonus fun: go back in time to May of last year, when The Daily Show commentator Lewis Black said that Glenn Beck had “Nazi Tourette’s.”
Fox is like what the History Channel used to be: 24/7 Nazis. (Comedy Central)
“Cantor invites Pelosi to sit together at SOTU.”
Nancy said no, she already has a date to the big congress prom with another nice Republican fella. He bought her a corsage and everything.
Nancy Pelosi; finally one of the popular girls. (MSNBC)