Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth

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In Big Lies, Joe Conason rips through the ten most damaging lies perpetrated by the right wing propaganda machine. This scathing, fact-filled analysis debunks it all:

- The myth that Republicans are fiscal geniuses and champions of free enterprise.

- The right's self-proclaimed monopoly on "family values."

- The conservative smearing of liberals as unpatriotic and anti-American.

- And of course, the "compassionate conservatism" of George W. Bush. (It depends on the meaning of ...

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In Big Lies, Joe Conason rips through the ten most damaging lies perpetrated by the right wing propaganda machine. This scathing, fact-filled analysis debunks it all:

- The myth that Republicans are fiscal geniuses and champions of free enterprise.

- The right's self-proclaimed monopoly on "family values."

- The conservative smearing of liberals as unpatriotic and anti-American.

- And of course, the "compassionate conservatism" of George W. Bush. (It depends on the meaning of “compassionate.”)

Big Lies confronts right-wing slander and bias with a long-awaited, badly-needed counterpunch to the deceptions that have plagued American politics for a generation.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
For liberals like most of those whom Conason associates with, his book will at minimum serve as a compact attack guide. For conservatives, the book will at minimum serve as a compact guide on what they want to refute. Readers of all political persuasions who care about the quality, as well as the decibel level, of civic debate ought to hope that Conason's book circulates more efficiently across ideological lines than those previous books that scorn civility of any sort. — Steve Weinberg
USA Today
In 212 zippy pages, Conason, co-author of The Hunting of the President: The Ten Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, does battle with conservative conventional wisdom with nary an apology. It's a book tailor-made for a group that has grown increasingly angry in recent years and has been lashing out in a variety of ways, including enthusiastic letter-writing campaigns to media outlets and a zesty variety of Weblogs. They're the folks who have decided they hate the reporting of Fox News Channel, conservative talk radio and all other manifestations of "the vast right-wing conspiracy." — Clara Frenk
Publishers Weekly
Liberals are fighting back, and Conason, a columnist for the New York Observer and Salon, delivers what he hopes will be a knockout blow to Ann Coulter (whom he accuses of "manufacturing... sham outrage for personal gain and political advantage") and her liberal-bashing comrades on the right. He lands some fine punches as he turns what he terms their "lies" back on themselves, amassing evidence that it's conservatives who are the elitists, who hold sway in the media, who violate family values (though Conason's chapter on what he casts as the hypocrisy of Newt Gingrich and his cohorts, trotting out one sexual transgression after another, quickly becomes distasteful). Conason's case is substantial, especially in dismissing conservatives' espousal of the free market-arguing that what they really support is selfish crony capitalism (he indicts the Bushes at length)- and in reviewing of Clinton's strong anti-al-Qaida campaign to counter charges that he was "soft" on terrorism. (Liberals will find it particularly delicious that then senator John Ashcroft led the battle against Clinton's effort to get government control over encryption software on civil liberties grounds.) But most of Conason's points are already well rehearsed, though liberals may find it useful to have them gathered in one volume. Despite conservative Republican election victories, Conason argues, polls show that most Americans sympathize with liberal positions on issues from the tax system to the environment. Still, it's not clear that what eventually becomes a tiresome litany of the sins of the right is the best way to remind Americans of where their sympathies really lie. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"After decades of disinformation from the right, Americans associate the word liberal with a series of negative stereotypes," says Conason, New York Observer editor at large and coauthor of The Hunting of the President. He believes that we need "an answer to conservative propaganda that holds the right accountable for its lies and hypocrisy" and wrote this book to help set the record straight. Conason identifies ten "Big Lies" about Democrats and liberals, such as the myth that the media are liberally biased; that liberaes, there unpatriotic, soft on crime, and fiscally irresponsible; and that liberals promote immorality and vice. Then he methodically presents evidence to the contrary while showing how conservatives/Republicans fail to measure up to the standards of moral and fiscal responsibility they claim to exemplify. He examines Republicans' handling of the federal budget and questionable deals, such as Iran-Contra during the Reagan administration, to challenge conservative claims of fiscal responsibility. By enumerating the sex scandals surrounding Republican politicians like Henry Hyde, Dan Burton, and Newt Gingrich, Conason demonstrates a hypocritical "do as we say, not as we do" conservative mindset. Extensive notes document the proofs and charges, and the writing is entertaining and engaging. Recommended for political science collections in public and academic libraries.-Jill Ortner, Univ. at Buffalo Libs. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
New York Observer and columnist Conason (co-author, The Hunting of the President, 2000) flushes the hypocrisy out of conservative rants and jibes at liberals. Would Americans ever take the bluster of the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters seriously? No way: citizens of the Republic "believe in fairness, equality, opportunity and compassion; they reject social Darwinism and excessive privilege," writes Conason, who would like to bury once and for all "the buzz of conservative cant [that] creates an illusion of consensus." Here he takes on the most egregious examples of conservative demagoguery, playing their cards right back at them. Are conservatives more morally rectitudinous than their liberal colleagues? Ask Newt Gingrich, Helen Chenoweth, and the laughably hypocritical Coulter, who once remarked, "Let’s say I go out every night, I meet a guy and have sex with him. Good for me. I’m not married." Are conservatives great patriots and defenders of the land, while liberals and Democrats cower like curs and dodge the draft? Ask Daniel Inouye, John Kerry, and Max Cleland, and then ask George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, Tom DeLay, and Saxby Chambliss. Who defends the common man? Bush wraps his arms around the nine rescued Quecreek miners while he proposes to slash the Mine Safety and Health Administration budget. Who champions the free market? Not conservatives, avers Conason, with their taste for crony capitalism and "the ethos of privilege, power and entitlement." The author’s points are all well taken, though he regrettably apes without parody the kind of statistic-slinging that conservatives employ. A few real flinchers ("What conservatives really hate most is a fair fight, whichbrings out their inner wimp") don’t mar his best point: conservatism’s "steep descent from the standard of literacy and wit once set by William F. Buckley Jr." to the impoverished, squalid bleats of Dinesh D’Souza, Laura Ingraham, and Michael Savage. It’s not too difficult to make the more preposterous spoutings of the way-out right look ridiculous, but Conason has fun hitting his easy targets. Agents: Andrew Wylie, Jeff Posternak/Wylie Agency
"Big Lies...takes up where Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media? left off... More raw meat for the lions ...."
David Brock
"BIG LIES is must reading for anyone who wants to understand America today."
Harold Evans
"An important book for American democracy."
New York Times
"BIG LIES is must reading for anyone who wants to understand America today."

— Paul Krugman

The Boston Phoenix
"...a about a president and a political movement that are eating away at the roots of our democracy."
The New York Times
"Factually arresting."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641648694
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/15/2004
  • Edition description: Revised and Updated
  • Pages: 255
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.04 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Joe Conason is the national correspondent for the New York Observer and writes a daily online journal for Salon. With Gene Lyons, he is the best-selling author of The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. His writing and reporting have appeared in many publications, including Harper's, The Guardian, The Nation, and The New Republic. He also appears frequently as a commentator on television and radio.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Limousine Liberals and Corporate-Jet Conservatives 13
2 Peroxide Paradox: The Blonde Misleading the Blind 29
3 Male Cheerleaders and Chicken Hawks 52
4 Deja Voodoo, All Over Again 74
5 Why Dick Armey Jointed the ACLU 89
6 Private Lives and Public Lies 109
7 Tokens of Their Esteem 128
8 Crony Capitalism, Infectious Greed, and the Way the World Really Works 146
9 Faith, Charity, and the Mayberry Machiavellis 171
10 "Dead or Alive" - Or Maybe Just Forgotten 190
Notes 213
Acknowledgments 233
Index 235
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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Joe Conason

Barnes & Big Lies is subtitled "The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth." What is this machine, and how does it operate?

Joe Conason: The "machine" can be pictured as a sprawling Wurlitzer organ with many keys, pedals, and pipes: the phalanx of conservative columnists and pundits featured in the mainstream media; the radio talkers like Limbaugh and Hannity; the big ideological media outlets such as Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Washington Times and the New York Post; the think tanks and advocacy outfits, including the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and literally dozens more. Often, if not always, they seem to take their direction from a single fax machine churning day and night at the Republican National Committee.

B& Since your book was written, there've been a few new "big lies news stories" running rampant. First, do you think that President Bush told the truth about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction?

JC: I don't know yet whether he understood the truth or even cared whether his own statements were accurate. He didn't bother to read the report compiled by the CIA on the Iraqi regime's weapons programs. Ultimately I suspect he was less interested in what was true than in what might sell this war to the public.

B& Why is it that many people don't seem to care about WMDs being found or not, considering that Mr. Bush used them as his rationale for launching the attack on Iraq? Isn't this a "big lie" that led to thousands of needless deaths, including those of our military?

JC: Certainly, the evidence discovered so far suggests that the administration's warnings about Iraq's imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons -- the "mushroom cloud" argument -- were false. And so far, nothing resembling the huge arsenal of biological and chemical weapons we were told that Saddam Hussein possessed has been found.

My sense is that many Americans are indeed concerned about the misleading arguments used to justify the war in Iraq, and that their anger is growing in proportion to the continuing loss of lives there. People can't help but notice that the administration's excuses and rationalizations change from week to week, which magnifies their distrust.

B& As these questions are being written, it's been reported that one-third of those asked claimed that WMDs had indeed been found, and 22 percent say Iraq used WMDs against the troops. How do "big lies" become "facts"?

JC: Most big lies win acceptance after that mighty Wurlitzer of conservative propaganda plays them incessantly for a while; sometimes the process takes weeks, and sometimes it takes years. I suppose some people may think that WMDs have been found in Iraq because certain media outlets played a few false "discoveries" big, without giving sufficient attention to the corrections that followed. I can't imagine why anyone believes that Iraq used chemical or biological weapons against our troops -- unless it's a rumor that has spread via the Internet or on talk radio. People come to believe many weird tales that way.

B& There have been an alarmingly high number of military casualties since Bush donned his flight suit and dramatically announced "Mission Accomplished." Have the American people been lied to about the outcome of the war and how difficult it may be to preserve the peace?

JC: There are lies and there are omissions that amount to lying. Obviously the fighting hasn't ended, regardless of Bush's stunt on the USS Lincoln. But the war's proponents have misled the country about its costs and dangers from the beginning, when they underestimated the number of troops that would be needed and told us that it would be a "cakewalk." And they have consistently refused to say how much the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq will ultimately cost us -- although we now know the price is likely to be no less than $50 billion and perhaps much higher.

B& The GOP's anger over Bill Clinton's lies involving his personal life gave birth to countless investigations and, eventually, his impeachment. If Bush did lie about WMDs, what should happen to him politically? What will happen?

JC: Evidently the Republicans care far more about ancient real estate deals and oral sex than they do about the possibility that this president and his top aides lied about an imminent threat to our national security. Their self-congratulatory babble about "restoring honor and integrity" to Washington would sound better if they were willing to spend a small fraction of the money and time we wasted harassing Clinton to discover the truth about Iraq.

B& The Jessica Lynch POW rescue story is being picked apart by the foreign press -- it's entirely possible that the "rescue" may have been staged to buttress flagging support for the invasion. Did the military lie about the Lynch rescue?

JC: Truth is the first casualty of war, as Philip Knightley said. The Pentagon's conduct in the Lynch case seems suspicious at best. But I don't think we will know what really happened unless and until Jessica Lynch recovers her lost memory.

B& Why is it that the Democrats are seemingly afraid to challenge the GOP on these alleged lies?

JC: Many Democrats aren't afraid to challenge the right or this right-wing administration. The Senate Democrats, for example, are standing up against the president's attempt to pack the federal courts with ideological extremists, and they also successfully threatened to filibuster the worst aspects of the energy bill. It's true, however, that the Congressional minority leadership isn't tough enough on many issues -- and certainly isn't as aggressive as the Republicans were when they languished in the minority. But as the Democratic politicians sense the anger in their base, I think that is changing, too.

B& Since you wrote Big Lies, there's been another huge tax cut enacted, with the majority of the benefits going to the rich once again. Are lies being told about the long-term impact of tax cuts for the rich at a time of massive deficits and economic uncertainty?

JC: The Bush administration changes its economic estimates so often that it's almost impossible to keep up with their fictional projections and analyses. They use bogus "average" figures to mislead the public about who will benefit most from the tax cuts -- and they create rosy scenarios to make the gigantic deficits disappear magically at some future date. Meanwhile, states and cities face ruinous budget problems, and the country has lost millions of jobs. It is telling that no matter what economic situation we face, the conservative Republicans always offer the same simple-minded solution: Cut taxes for our biggest campaign contributors.

B& If you had to predict, what "big lies" are coming next, as we approach the 2004 election cycle?

JC: The biggest lies -- like those that distorted the 2000 and 2002 elections -- will be floated against the political opposition. The nastiest lies will be told about whoever wins the Democratic presidential nomination. The closer we get to the election, the more we will hear the kind of harsh, personal attacks that were invented to destroy the reputation and character of Al Gore. At the president's press conference the other day, a reporter asked Bush how he could possibly spend the estimated $170 million that he will collect for his campaign war chest. "Just watch," he laughed.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 17 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2007

    Politics for thinkers.

    While reading this book, I realized something. For the first time in years, I was proud to be a Democrat. I¿ve never regretted my political choice, but it had been a long time since I felt this good about it. Joe Conason rebuts ten major conservative myths with solid facts and excellent writing. Some of you may have read my earlier review of ¿Conservative Comebacks to Liberal Lies¿ The format of ¿Big Lies¿ is similar to that, but this book does a much better job, going in-depth on each myth, why it¿s so prevalent, and why it¿s dead-wrong. Mr. Conason obviously did a lot of research for this book, providing twenty pages of references in support of his points. His research is the cause of my one complaint with the book, however, since he does make some statements without any supporting documents. This is a little annoying, since he obviously understands the importance of backing up his words with evidence. This should be required reading for every Democrat in the country, and is highly recommended for thinking Republicans, too, even if you don¿t agree with most of what he says. A great read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Agree with Politics for Thinkers

    I concur with the review below. Basically, Conason does a really good job of debunking myths about liberalism....but occasionally he'll try to make a point by saying that something is so obvious, it would be redundant to cite examples. I'm a cynic - I need examples!! But when he does provide examples (which is most of the time, mind you), it is very well researched and written.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2006

    half truth

    while each title either way is half truth to prove a point, this book follows in that genre. a quote or sentence does not explore all the options and therefore misleads. for once I would like to see a book written that tries to show both points and let the reader decide instead of pushing to the right or left

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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