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Home Main Forums General Discussion Factoid Spinning

  • Fire with Fire (1603 posts)

    Factoid Spinning

    The word, factoid, was coined by Norman Mailer in 1973.  According to Wiki, its meaning has evolved over the decades and two distinct definitions have appeared in the dictionary:

    Definition of factoid
    1: an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print
    2: a briefly stated and usually trivial fact

    Mailer was writing about Marilyn Monroe, perhaps the most iconic celebrity of all time who remains to this day at the center of the controversy over what sort of human beings were the Kennedy Brothers.  Merriam Webster adds this bit of historical perspective to the term:  “Mailer explains that factoids are “facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper, creations which are not so much lies as a product to manipulate emotion in the Silent Majority.”

    The subtle distinction between a “lie” and a “product” will send moralizers up the wall, but that difference is vital to understanding mass communications and power today in the Digital Era.  A manufactured factoid is of course a lie, but it is far more than a lie and it has a much more ambitious purpose than a mere lie — which is simply an intentionally false assertion of “fact.”  As Mailer grasped, and we see much more clearly now on the internet, manipulating emotion has almost nothing to do with facts or reality.  It is infinitely more powerful than a simple lie, which can be countered.  A factoid cannot be “disproved” if it seems true and if the assertion is trivial enough.


    The most important aspect of both definitions of factoid is the triviality of the “fact” in question.

    My first experience with internet factoid spinning came in 2004 with the controversy surrounding Dan Rather and a 60 Minutes report about George W. Bush’s military record.  Instead of going to Vietnam, the son of the ex-director of the CIA  served in the Texas Air National Guard.  Rather alleged that Bush did not live up to his National Guard contract and was, in effect, AWOL for much of his time in service.

    One aspect of the evidence was a memo allegedly written by his squadron commander, named Killian.


    The “Killian documents” were initially claimed by CBS to have come from the “personal files” of the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, Bush’s squadron commander during Bush’s Air National Guard service.[50] They describe preferential treatment during Bush’s service, including pressure on Killian to “sugar coat” an annual officer rating report for the then 1st Lt. Bush. CBS aired the story on September 8, 2004, amid more releases of Bush’s official records by the Department of Defense, including one just the day before as the result of a FOIA lawsuit by the Associated Press.[51]

    The Killian documents are widely considered to be fake. Starting with a Free Republic web posting by Harry MacDougald, a conservative Republican lawyer posting under the blogger name, “Buckhead.” MacDougald and multiple fellow bloggers claimed that the formatting shown in the documents used proportional fonts that did not come into common use until the mid-to-late 1990s and alleged that the documents were therefore likely forgeries. [52][53] While the widely publicized rationale of “Buckhead” was technically inaccurate, both related and unrelated serious challenges to the authenticity of the documents nonetheless exist. For instance, it is unlikely that the typewriters available to Killian’s secretary could have produced such a document, and the documents contained U.S. Army, rather than U.S. Air Force, jargon.[54][55][56][57][58]

    The forgery allegations subsequently came to the attention of the mainstream media, especially after experts also questioned the documents’ authenticity and lack of a chain of custody.[59][60][61] The original documents have never been submitted for authentication. The man who delivered the copies, Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, a former officer in the Texas Army National Guard and outspoken Bush critic, claimed that he burned the originals. Burkett admitted lying to CBS and USA Today about where he had obtained the papers and eventually expressed doubts of his own about their authenticity.[62]


    Some Freeper calling himself Buckhead somehow wigged out that forensic factoid about electric typewriter fonts, and, as if by magic, every wingnut on the internet began a sustained campaign of invective against the fraudulent memo produced by Liberal Dan Rather on the Liberal CBS television network.  The themes evoked by Rather and his opponents were very heavy.  On one side of the dispute, this raised the question of rich sons from powerful families and how they avoided the draft.  It also raised the issue of Shrub’s character — which had been celebrated after September 11 as greatness personified.  On the other side, Bush supporters viewed the alleged forged document as proof of the fundamental dishonesty of Rather and “the media.”

    What united both sides in this weird affair was a partisan resort to factoid spinning.  Fierce arguments raged across message boards and comment threads all over the internet.  What kind of fonts were available three decades earlier?  Wingnuts blanketed the internet with documentation of the Font Question.

    The fate of the Bush Presidency turned on this incredibly trivial detail.   I argued at the time as did many other Rather defenders that there was plenty of other evidence to support the claim of special treatment for Dubya, but the onslaught of indignant wingnut whinging was relentless.  Rather left CBS in a state of semi-disgrace and semi-heroism, all because of a font.


    Fourteen years later, we see furious debates over factoids.  They come from all points on the political compass and they are always disputed by the opposite political orientation.  Invariably these arguments are snarky and insulting, filled with demands to “document” assertions — even as the topic at hand is often the unreliability of “documentation” as Rather found out the hard way.

    The best example on this day at JPR can be found on the threads about Scotland Yard arresting two Russians for the attempted murder of the Skripals.  For some inexplicable reason (at least to me), upon making two arrests in the Skripal attempted murder case, Scotland Yard published photographs of the suspects going through a London airport security gate.  The pics had time stamps that showed the identical day, hour and minute.

    Hmmmnnn?  What does that prove?  Nothing one way or the other.  Just as the pics without the time stamps prove nothing one way or the other.  But those time stamps are factoids that need to be “explained.”

    One difference between the Rather case and the British poisoning case is that the party making the assertion was a TV network in 2004 while in 2018 it is the British government that is putting out the “evidence” in question.  But from a structural point of view, that is yet another triviality.  Rather than debate political or policy issues, we now debate factoids and what they show about the “credibility” of parties making assertions.


    Another major factoid battle came with the Trayvon Martin Case in 2012.  I was posting on another board at the time and the thread went to 2422 posts — a year long debate over every detail of the case, with both sides full of righteous indignation about how mendacious the other side was.  This national “story” did not even have a direct impact on any election or any public policy debate.  It either proved that Racism Rules or that Liberals are Dipshits, and neither side ever gave a millimeter.

    It seems to me that factoids are such a popular internet topic of discussion because they absolve us all of debating the underlying issues with each other.  Instead we can wax indignant about how “brainwashed” our opponents are, without ever having to make a coherent political argument.

    I don’t care if this factoid spinning is pro or con, left or right, religious or atheistic, carnivore or vegitarian.  I get the feeling of wanting to counter bogus factoids — I did it myself in the Rather Case.  But it is yet another example of the incomprehensible shallowness of our political culture.

    And, it is a sure tell of a troll.  Anybody who posts mainly factoid spin is definitely a troll, probably paid by David Brock.


    mrdmk, Shlabotnik, relgire and 12 othersEnthusiast, Scott Crowder, bemildred, KenTanker0us, Koko, Iwalani88, ThomPaine, eridani, OCMI, Ohio Barbarian, nevereVereven, MistaP like this

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17 replies
  • MistaP (10209 posts)

    1. it's part of the same process as the 24/7 news media–in fact it INCREASES

    attention span, but that DECREASES the scope: every day people are watching 22 minutes or hours and hours of the same piddling shit get worried and dragged out like yarn

    that way nobody’s looking at the longer arcs–between weeks, between months, between decades

    how many people pointed out the similarity between Syria 2016 and Iraq 2002? the Dems hardly paid attention (largely since they didn’t want to impugn Clinton, Obama, Kerry) while the Pubs voted against it; if they admitted Riyadh planned 9/11 in full suspicious certitude that we’d hit Iraq and Iran, how big a wave would it make? Timber Sycamore? ISIS is gonzo and anyway we’re blowing up literal busloads of children in Yemen (which are now themselves off the screen)

    the Clinton campaign created Trump with the Pied Piper strategy (Third Way = Bell Curve)
  • Ohio Barbarian (10893 posts)

    2. Ah. Like the factoids that came out in the 1970's that JFK intended to withdraw

    American forces from Vietnam without a victory for anti-Communism. The sources were Kennedy advisers who had changed their stories after 1968. Although nothing in his public statements or declassified internal memoranda even remotely suggest that JFK had any intention of quitting Vietnam before he was murdered, there are many who think the CIA did it because he intended to do just that.

    There’s a whole cottage industry completely based on factoids that sells books and feature films, so persuasive to so many that now there are those who despise Trump’s policies who defend him because there is a perception that the same Deep State that had absolutely no reason to kill JFK is now going after Don the Reality TV President.

    Didn’t see that one coming, did you? Just having a little fun.     I agree with everything you said in your excellent OP.


    Ignorance is the foundation of tyranny.
    • fluff (633 posts)

      8. US Marines won Banana Republic wars for a century.

      They did that by going in, beating up our opponents, propping up our allies and then … this is the really very, very important part … leaving.

      Did we have to go back and do it again and again and again?  Yes.  We did.  But it worked.  For a century it worked.  And THAT is what JFK was going to do.  Not permanently withdraw.  He was simply going to continue US Banana Republic policy.

      Modern day American Left denies that this ever happened and that it worked.  Modern day American Right … okay, those numbnuts never knew it even existed.  “Beat ’em up and leave for awhile” strategy is 100% rejected by conservatives.  They are black-and-white thinkers.  Partial and temporary victories are non-existent in their limited way of thinking.

      You hear “JFK was going to leave,” and think that means we were going to abandon Vietnam and leave it to the Vietnamese because you are a product of modern US politics.  In JFK’s time it meant, “we beat up Ho’s forces (Ho having consolidate the Left after WW-II by assassinating his Leftish opponents after the post-WWII debacle), bought time for the pro-western Vietnamese to solidify themselves (by assassinating the winner’s Rightist opponents while the Marines held the line), and we could now leave.  Unless they needed us, in which case we would have gone right back.  Not because we were going to leave and stay away.  That was never our thing.

      So, yes, JFK was planning to leave.  Not because JFK was mister goody-two-shoes.  But because we did NOT intend to send millions of Americans to Vietnam to wipe out the indigenous population and colonize the country.  We were only there to help those Vietnamese with whom we agreed and would cooperate with us regarding the rubber plantations.

      The American Right, who has pretty much never won a war while the American Left has won almost every war the US has won and was derided as the “War Party” when I was growing up, insisted that the US instead “win” the war in Vietnam on behalf our friends instead of letting our friends win it because … the American Right are that fucking stupid and incompetent.

      I am a mainstream Democrat whom you mostly despise.  I do hate the Clintonistas, and consider them our mutual enemies.  Because I am pro-union and pretty much hate the Clintonista divide-and-conquer (Brock) style of politics.  I recognize that the Clintonistas have taken control of the Party and want to purge them rather than burn down the Party and start over.

      I was a member of that other place since its second month of existence, and was kicked out solely for predicting that Her would lose the Electoral College because Her was unelectable in most of the country by making herself the Face of the Assault Weapons Ban (whom Her’s husband himself admitted was the biggest electoral disaster to ever befall the Democratic Party; but apparently I have to marry her for me to say that).

      The other place is a lot like the mainstream media.  Were you correct about the Iraq Invasion?  Yes?  Then you do not qualify as an expert.  Only those who were wrong continue to qualify as experts.


      Remember, remember the 6th of November 2018.
      • Ohio Barbarian (10893 posts)

        9. I agree with you that Kennedy fully intended to withdraw from Vietnam AFTER

        victory, meaning chance of Communist “contagion” eliminated for the foreseeable future, was achieved.

        I don’t think Hillary being the face of the assault weapons ban was the major factor in her defeat. If there was any one factor, it was NAFTA, which decimated all of the Midwestern states. There is no one here who doesn’t know someone or of someone who lost their livelihood because of NAFTA, pushed through by a Clinton.

        Yes, I was right about the Iraq Conquest, in damned near every particular, mainly because I studied that region’s history and politics. I suppose that means I would never qualify as an expert on the subject in the American corporate media. Or that horrid place you were a member of for so long.

        My experience there was mercifully brief, 2008 to maybe early 2010. If I joined now, my very membership would violate their terms of service. :lol:

        Ignorance is the foundation of tyranny.
  • ThomPaine (6461 posts)

    3. k & r and thanks for posting.

  • Deadpool (16665 posts)

    4. On The Daily Radical!

  • KenTanker0us (500 posts)

    5. Great thread.

    I used to be Navarth at DU. I left DU when it became polluted with Hillary pushers. The party bosses fucked us, and Bernie, just like they did with Henry Wallace in 1944.
  • snot (1393 posts)

    6. Big factoid, of course: Russia hacked the 2016 election.

    As far as I’m aware, very little actual interference has been proven; and the whole hullabaloo seems to have been raised in a depressingly successful effort to divert attention from the content of the leaked DNC emails.

    https://www.battleforthenet.com/                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         1% “To Do” list:

    1.  Control banking; 2.  Control communications (including “news” media); 3.  Control the government; 4.  Control education ; ....

  • Major Hogwash (4684 posts)

    7. George W Bush never served in Vietnam, John Kerry did.

    So did John McCain.

    Yet, look at how the Republicans trashed Kerry for his service in Vietnam in 2004 — wearing ‘purple heart band-aids’ on the first day of their official Republican national convention, claiming Kerry didn’t deserve the medals the Department of the Navy awarded to him, and touting the book “Unfit for Command”.

    Bush had circulated rumors in the South in 2000 during the Republican Presidential campaign that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child in order to beat McCain for the Republican nomination.
    McCain never held that personal attack against Bush, instead he supported Bush all the way into Iraq.

    Even though this is all true, arguing about it didn’t change a damn thing in reality.
    Bush went on to win in 2004, and he continued to fuck up the country for the rest of the time he was in the White House.
    Then McCain ran for the White House in 2008 and lost to Obama.

    Now we have Trump in the White House — who never served in the military — and who just spent the last 2 years trashing McCain.
    It’s hard for me to believe that this is the same country that was entrenched for so long fighting the Vietnam War, when assholes like Trump can behave as their loud-mouthed, cheerleader bashing Vietnam veterans.


    Trump moya marionetka ~ Putin  
    • RealityCheck (1777 posts)

      10. George W Bush (nor Trump) never served in Vietnam, John Kerry did

      Thank you for that honorable recognition that helps restore honor and courage of those who served v. those who are rich brats that lie.

      This topic + responses has brought me back to how difficult ‘Nam was to swallow then compared to a process of a continuous research for the truth about ‘Nam yet today. We are a nation of smoke and mirrors …. fog!

      What Swiftboat Vets Liars for G W Bush did against Kerry was shameful!! Some may not support what Kerry has done for the people of our nation but to those who want to trash his service can go straight to NVA Hell!

      Article below gives a pretty thorough sifting through of several versions and interpretations surrounding JFK’s decisions about his intentions and withdrawal plans for early Vietnam.




      Exit Strategy: In 1963, JFK ordered a complete withdrawal from Vietnam

      James K. Galbraith

      Before a large audience at the LBJ Library on May 1, 1995, McNamara restated his account of this meeting and stressed its importance. He confirmed that President Kennedy’s action had three elements: (1) complete withdrawal “by December 31, 1965,” (2) the first 1,000 out by the end of 1963, and (3) a public announcement, to set these decisions “in concrete,” which was made. McNamara also added the critical information that there exists a tape of this meeting, in the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, to which he had access and on which his account is based.



      • Major Hogwash (4684 posts)

        11. Yeah, I agree with you about those SwiftBoat Liars.

        They can go straight to fucking hell.

        From that article it is clear that McNamara was right.
        Because after attending that meeting on October 2nd, Kennedy issued National Security Action Memorandum 263 on October 11 calling for the withdrawal of 1,000 American troops from Vietnam by the end of 1963, and all of them by the end of 1965.
        That is a fantastic article, full of facts and dates.
        Thank you for sharing it here.

        People that want to know the facts about the Vietnam War need to examine the words used by our Presidents when they were in charge of the country, and then compare their words up against their actions.
        Not only did Johnson escalate the war far beyond what anyone serving in the Kennedy administration thought he would, but then Nixon continued fighting that fucking war for another 5 years!

        Trump moya marionetka ~ Putin  
      • Coldmountaintrail (8493 posts)

        12. kerry's a rich brat too, however. very old money on the forbes side.

        and very international money.

        • RealityCheck (1777 posts)

          13. kerry's a rich brat too, however. very old money on the forbes side.

          I’m curious.

          How does that play into Kerry’s ‘Nam service?

          He didn’t have a cushy job behind a desk over there. I really don’t know if money had influenced Kerry’s service over there. Maybe you know something that I don’t. Please share.

          • Major Hogwash (4684 posts)

            16. That is the weirdest comment I have ever read about Kerry's service in Vietnam


            Trump moya marionetka ~ Putin  
            • RealityCheck (1777 posts)

              17. the weirdest comment I have ever read about Kerry's service in Vietnam

              Maybe it came from the Swiftboater’s playbook. Anything from that playbook would be ‘Factoid Spinning’ but actually more like factoid regurgitation.

    • Illegal Smile (530 posts)

      15. George W did pretty much what I expected

      John Kerry though, he taught me a lesson.

      What is it about power that turns people into grotesque caricatures of their former selves?

      Tolkien wasn’t screwing around when he talked about he power of the One Ring to destroy the bearer.

  • leveymg (4931 posts)

    14. Related terms "limited hangout" (also Nixon era) and "shiny object" (Internet)

    I believe what you’re talking about are little facts that are sometimes offered up or seized upon in order to discredit or obscure larger truths.  That’s a type of classical rhetorical device known as diversion, or the “shiny object” effect, where an argument is derailed by fixation on some subsidiary aspect, either real or made-up, the effect of which is to cast doubt without all the trouble of disproving the larger point.

    In law, a related concept is “anecdotal evidence.”  In trials, attorneys will often attempt to influence a jury by having a witness offer up a colorful personal story that captures an incident that isn’t directly related to the overall behavior charged.  For instance, a witness may be called that she saw someone charged with industrial dumping once drop a gum wrapper.   If the incident doesn’t go to the specific charge, it is anecdotal evidence, and a smart attorney will object to that sort of evidence as hearsay, irrelevant or misleading.   A good judge will exclude it if it doesn’t really go to establish character.