Writer tackles right-wing distortions

While Al Franken’s “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” may have gotten all the attention, and a now-dismissed lawsuit from Fox News, journalist Joe Conason covers much the same ground in his latest book, but in a more serious and scholarly fashion.

“Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth” is, in some ways, a reaction to books written by conservative pundits Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity. Conason, a columnist for Salon.com and the New York Observer, sets out to dispel what he sees as inaccuracies regarding perceptions about American liberalism.

He begins by attempting to dispel the notion that the media displays a liberal bias, a deliberate reaction to books like Coulter’s wildly inaccurate “Slander” or the sour grapes in Bernard Goldman’s “Bias.” He makes his case with choice quotes from such figures as Rush Limbaugh, who devotes a significant portion of his radio program to bashing the “liberal media.” However, Limbaugh admits: “There’s been a massive change in media over the last fifteen years. Now it’s 2002 and the traditional liberal media monopoly doesn’t exist anymore.”

In the chapter, Limousine Liberals and Corporate-Jet Conservatives, Conason also makes an outstanding case that multi-millionaires like Limbaugh can’t possibly represent the voice of “the people.” He backs up his claim by quoting a hilarious interview of a snobby Limbaugh in Cigar Aficianado.

Conason laments the tarring of liberals as “unpatriotic,” noting that many Democratic lawmakers served their country in the military, while many outspoken conservatives, like Limbaugh and Tom DeLay, avoided service. “The point here is not that anyone who failed to serve should be excluded from decisions about war and peace,” Conason writes. “(But) conservatives should stop pretending they have a monopoly on patriotic virtue and military valor, because the record clearly disproves that myth.”

George W. Bush and his business and political careers undergo rigorous scrutiny, as would be expected. Of particular note are the unsavory connections Bush has with economic and religious extremists, and how their views inform the president’s policies.

For example, Conason describes how Bush adopted the catch phrase “compassionate conservative,” which was coined by Marvin Olasky, whom Conason describes as “a former Communist reborn as a radical fundamentalist…who may have been the only young American who actually signed up with the Communist Party in 1972.”

Conason hits his stride late in the book when he begins to describe what he calls a “worldwide network of political and financial connections…where insiders almost always win and investors often lose.” Chapter 8 alone is worth the price of admission for the details on Bush’s uncanny knack for getting bailed out by his father’s friends or someone close to the public’s tax dollars, and how those same folks always end up in government positions or get exactly the legislation they wanted to further enrich themselves.

He also makes fair and reasonable criticism of the Bush national security team without resorting to cheap shots or wild accusations.

A lot of the information covered in the book was not new to me, but finding it took me countless hours of research. Conason presents mountains of facts from disparate sources in a clear, concise and damning fashion. If you might be so interested, you can look up more about anything that jumps out at you; there’s a lot more where this came from. All you need is access to a Google search engine.

“Big Lies” is definitely worth reading if you’re interested in learning more about politics, particularly if you want to read about current events from a perspective that is genuinely different from many you’re likely to hear.

While Conason is obviously partisan, he often takes a conciliatory tone to those readers who might disagree with him. He doesn’t demand that you agree with him, but he urges you to hear him out.