Suppose you read a post titled “Dick Armey Lays Out Proposal To End Social Security And Medicare ‘As You Know It’”. And let’s suppose — purely for the sake of argument — that you read it in a blog you know and trust. For example, it might be a blog whose name consists entirely of numbers.
You would be entitled to conclude that Dick Armey had declared his intention to end Social Security and Medicare as we know it.
Of course, you are extremely unlikely to read a post with such a title in any blog you know and trust.
Because Dick Armey has never said any such thing. Not even close. He did say the exact opposite, though. That he wants to make Social Security optional, under a plan that would “guarantee you will get your social security as you know it today, with no change other than a proper cost of living index”, if you choose to stay in Social Security rather than leave.
So where might you read a post with such a title? On a blog such as ThinkProgress, which seems to have decided that honesty or accuracy in its headlines is purely optional, with no costs or consequences to the bloggers or editors who choose to abandon them. The culprit in this case is Alex Seitz-Wald (or at this stage, to be fair, we would have to say it might also be some unknown editor, since bloggers in blogs such as ThinkProgress don’t necessarily write their own headlines).
And this is hardly the first time that ThinkProgress has just cheerfully made up sensational quotes and put them into the mouths of people they don’t like very much. Last April, Brad Johnson had a post about Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. The title read “Don Blankenship Called Safety Regulators ‘As Silly As Global Warming’”. Blankenship, of course had not said anything even remotely resembling that. His actual statement was:
But I also know — I also know Washington and state politicians have no idea how to improve miner safety. The very idea that they care more about coal miner safety than we do is as silly as global warming.
Quite a different kettle of fish, isn’t that?
Now, both these posts included the actual quotes from the people in question. Someone who read the headline but not the post would certainly be led astray, but at least anyone who read the post would see right away that the headline was just a big fat lie. All that would happen is that she would lose some respect for ThinkProgress. And make a mental note that they should start taking everything they read in ThinkProgress with a pinch of salt.
But here’s what happened on Sunday: Alex Seitz-Wald had another Dick-Armey-and-Social-Security post. In which he approvingly quoted the big fat lie from the headline of that earlier post:
As ThinkProgress noted, former House Speaker Dick Armey laid out a plan this week that would effectively dismantle Social Security and Medicare “as you know it” by privatizing a large portion of these critical social safety net programs.
Hard to make excuses for him now. And what makes the repetition of the big fat lie more pernicious than the first offense is that this time around you don’t get Armey’s actual quote. You can’t look at what he really said and realize that ThinkProgress is just playing fast and loose with the truth.
Just as ThinkProgress doesn’t seem to realize (or care) that it’s playing fast and loose with its reputation.
We’re still not at the point where that statement needs to be out in the past tense — playing fast and loose with what used to be its reputation — but at this rate we’ll get there soon enough.