Can conservative beliefs be fact checked? Or have their increasingly isolated convictions, particularly those concerning President Obama, become immune to impendent review?
Megyn Kelly helped raised the issue on Fox News this week during a segment in which the cable channel, yet again, ran interference on behalf of the faulty claim that President Obama had gone on an “apology tour” his first year in office, traveling the globe apologizing for America. Kelly responded to the argument that neutral fact-checkers have debunked the criticism by claiming the issue can't be fact-checked away because conservatives are convinced it's true.
The issue came up after Mitt Romney raised it during Monday's debate. Obama responded by calling the “apology tour” one of the biggest “whoppers” Romney had been telling on the campaign trail, and noted that several independent fact-checkers have addressed the right-wing claim and found it to be completely unsubstantiated. ("Pants on fire.")
Annoyed at the general consensus that the “apology tour” never happened, Kelly hosted a Romney surrogate and expressed her annoyance that fact checkers had concluded the event was a fabrication. After airing clips of Obama weaving in some critiques of American foreign policy under his predecessor during 2009 trips abroad, Kelly concluded it simply wasn't possible to claim the “apology tour” hadn't happened.
Why? Because many Fox News viewers think it did. It's one of their core beliefs. It's an article of faith.
KELLY: The words speak for themselves. Either people believe that was president Obama apologizing for America or they don't. But how can a fact checker say it's not true?
How can fact checkers say the claim of an “apology tour” isn't true when conservatives heard the clips and decided it is true? (This is akin to George Costanza logic: It's not a lie, if you believe it.)
The argument raises all sorts of questions about how isolated and detached from the general public, and particularly from the general political public, the conservative movement wants to be. Media Matters and others have written extensively in recent years about the parallel universe that the far-right media have been constructing and how they seem anxious to have their own set of facts.
But Kelly's claim that the “apology tour” happened because Obama's critics think it did, and because they believe it to be true, seems to take that preferred isolation to another level. And it comes at a time when conservatives are brazenly carving out all types of new realities.
For instance, in recent weeks the far-right media embraced the sprawling conspiracy theory that political pollsters (all of them, including those employed by Fox News) had their thumbs on the scale and were deliberately producing bogus, pro-Obama results in order to drive down Republican turnout on Election Day.
The same media players have flat out denied that Obama used the words “acts of terror” to describe the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi during his September 12 speech about the attack.That, despite the fact the phrase appears in the White House transcript and Obama can plainly be seen saying it on tape.
Indeed, it seems with each passing month conservatives are further empowered to embrace their own set of facts and to shed the responsibility that comes with adhering to shared truths. How can fact checkers conclude pollsters aren't all part of a White House cabal if Kelly's viewers think they are? How can fact checkers claim Obama said “acts of terror” on September 12, if Fox News followers believe he did not? (Or that when he did, he wasn't referencing Benghazi?)
And where does it end? Lots of Obama haters are sure the president's a foreign-born Muslim who can't stand big business. Is there any possible scenario in which fact checkers can convince those hardcore critics otherwise?
Not likely. Because they believe those things to be true. And you can't fact check faith.