Here’s a Tiny Little Case Study of Political Misinformation

Helmut Fohringer/APA Picturedesk via ZUMA

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I had lunch with a friend yesterday. I’ve known him for a long time, and he’s a smart, politically engaged, moderate conservative. He’s not a big Donald Trump fan and certainly not a Fox News drone. Just an ordinary center-right guy.

And yet, he told me the following things during the course of a one-hour conversation:

  • Roe v. Wade is in no danger because it’s already been settled. The Supreme Court can’t just change its mind about it. Reality: The Supreme Court can overturn an old case anytime it wants, and it happens all the time. The most recent example happened yesterday in the public-sector union case.
  • American cars cost twice as much in Europe as they do here. Reality: Most American cars sold in Europe are made in Europe. Imports are subject to a 10 percent tariff.
  • If nothing changes, our trade deficit with China will keep going up forever. Before long it will be trillions of dollars. Reality: the US trade deficit with China has been flat for more than a decade.
  • We’re “finally” talking to North Korea. Reality: We’ve talked to North Korea many, many times in the past. So far, there’s nothing new happening except that Donald Trump decided to personally do the talking this time around.
  • Public-sector unions shouldn’t be allowed to make members pay union dues that are used for political lobbying. Reality: This has been illegal for 40 years. Anyone who wants to opt out of political activities is required to pay only a smaller “agency” fee, which is used to fund ordinary collective bargaining activities. Yesterday’s court case abolished even those. Workers can now enjoy the benefits of union representation without paying dues of any kind.

My friend also suggested there was a 50 percent chance that North Korea will give up its nukes. This strikes me as wildly improbable, but strictly speaking it’s merely an opinion, not a statement of fact.

I’m not quite sure what my point is here. Lots of people are misinformed about lots of stuff. But this a pretty spectacular list coming from a smart, moderate guy. And there was no malice or la-la-la-la involved. It was just honest misinformation.

Where did it all come from? And how is it that he’s apparently never heard the truth? It’s something for the mainstream media to think about.

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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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