Have you noticed your liberal friends on Facebook spotlighting some unbelievably shocking comments from Republican presidential candidates lately?
Comments like Ted Cruz declaring on May 22, “While there may have been an age difference, Josh Duggar’s transgressions are far less an affront to God than what gays do to each other.”
Or Dr. Ben Carson saying on May 10, “Mother’s Day is a sad, lonely day for women who aborted their babies. Even if they have a living child, they focus on the one they murdered. It’s why suicide rates are so high on Mother’s Day.”
Or Marco Rubio asking on May 26, “Why wouldn’t I trust Josh Duggar to babysit my children? I’d rather leave my daughters alone with him than with Beyonce or Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift.”
Of course, all of these quotes are fake. They come from a “satirical” Facebook page, “Stop the World, the Teabaggers Want Off.” But that hasn’t stopped more than a few liberals from enthusiastically sharing graphics featuring the imaginary incendiary comments, and stirring themselves into the attendant froth of outrage. The site declares itself to be “for entertainment purposes only,” and that may be true — if you’re the kind of person who devours made-up, outrageous quotes from conservative politicians for fun. But there’s nothing funny about it from the perspective of the politicians’ presidential campaigns, who are starting to see the fake quotes and positions permeate the world of actual news.
“It’s obviously frustrating for any campaign, because the point of these sites is not to inform the public, it’s to cause trouble,” says Brian Phillips, director of rapid response at Cruz for President, who deals with these sorts of stories all the time. “There’s a whole industry of anti-conservative reporters or sometimes just folks on the Left who don’t really care about reporting the truth, who have another agenda to make a candidate look extreme.”
Liberals . . . find absolutely any inane or ignorant statement attributed to a Republican official credible.
“Stop the World” also offered Cruz declaring, “Not only will the gay jihad lead to the imprisonment of pastors and the end of free speech, it will require mandatory gay marriage in all 50 states. People will not be given a choice.” It was shared 1,244 times on Facebook by Tuesday afternoon, prompting many credulous reactions in the comments section.
PolitiFact Texas felt the need to declare the site’s post about Cruz “Pants on Fire.” “Stop the World” also fabricated quotes to make it seem as though PolitiFact had validated it as a credible source.
Cruz did use the words “mandatory gay marriage” in a radio interview, referring to the fact that most Democrats would seek to rescind any state bans on gay marriage. But the Houston Chronicle reported on its web site that, “Cruz apparently alleged his political opponents were trying to force all Americans into same-sex unions.”
The article ran a comment from Cruz’s campaign, declaring that he had not meant precisely what the Chronicle reporter claimed he meant two sentences earlier.
“A candidate says something pretty clear in plain English, and then someone takes it completely out of context,” Phillips says, “Most of the time it’s like the Scott Walker situation, where the candidate says something and they totally twist it.”
“The Scott Walker situation” refers to a short-lived controversy last week, when the Wisconsin governor declared in a radio interview with Dana Loesch:
We signed a law that requires an ultrasound, which, the thing about that, the media tried to make that sound like that was a crazy idea. Most people I talk to, whether they’re pro-life or not, I find people all the time who’ll get out their iPhone and show me a picture of their grandkids’ ultrasound and how excited they are, so that’s a lovely thing. I think about my sons are 19 and 20, you know we still have their first ultrasound picture. It’s just a cool thing out there.
Walker’s “cool thing” is obviously referring to the ability to see ultrasound images of not-yet-born children, including his own. But numerous sites, including the Huffington Post, New York magazine, Mother Jones, Jezebel, and Talking Points Memo declared that Walker had referred to mandatory or “forced” ultrasounds as “a cool thing out there.”
This week, Phillips had to knock down the liberal site Newslo for claiming that Cruz sought federal disaster assistance for Texans hurt by recent flooding while opposing an aid bill for Hurricane Sandy victims. Cruz did vote against an aid bill in 2013, declaring “cynical politicians in Washington could not resist loading up this relief bill with billions in new spending utterly unrelated to Sandy.”
Newslo claimed Cruz justified his votes on the two bills in a curious way:
“Texas has always been a God-fearing and law-abiding state,” Cruz said. “It’s not a secret that Texas is one of the states where kids get the strictest upbringing and are taught to follow the letter of God. And look at New Orleans, for example — it’s a city of sin, where the Devil has a home. It’s almost a no-brainer, really.”
Cruz added: “Maybe New Orleans should ask the French or Canadian government for help, in their native language. I’m sure they take care of their own.”
Almost anyone with a sufficient number of functioning brain cells would recognize that not even the most bombastic Republican presidential candidate would say such a thing. If a Republican president somehow had such a thing, it would have been reported far and wide by well-established news organizations. (Newslo used a file photo of Ted Cruz on the set of CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper,” making it easy for readers to believe the senator made the comment during an interview on that program.)
But most of the comments underneath the Newslo article appear to take the quotes at face value. The phenomenon is a testament to the power of confirmation bias, where liberals — themselves not that well-informed about which sites are established news sources and which ones are attempts at satire — find absolutely any inane or ignorant statement attributed to a Republican official credible.
It’s an open question as to how much fictional stories like these sway votes, but they do tend to stick in the minds of partisans. A Zogby poll, commissioned by John Zeigler after the 2008 election, found that about 87 percent of self-identified Obama voters believed Sarah Palin said, “I can see Russia from my house.” The line was uttered by Tina Fey impersonating Palin during a Saturday Night Live sketch; during an interview, Palin had said, “you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.”
Cruz appears to be a particular target of the phenomenon. Shortly after his presidential campaign launch, he declared to a crowd of supporters in New Hampshire that “the world is on fire!” A three-year-old girl in the audience asked, “The world is on fire?” Cruz said, “You know what, your mommy’s here, and everyone’s here to make sure the world you grow up in is even better.” The video makes clear it was an amusing moment, but more than a few outlets such as Gawker and New York reported that Cruz had terrorized the toddler.
The mother of the girl later went out on local radio to emphasize that no, the senator hadn’t terrified her daughter.
“Thank goodness we had her mother come out,” Phillips says. “It shows the importance of pushing back on this stuff. They would have loved to paint a picture of Ted Cruz with horns, scaring little children.”
— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.