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Home Main Forums General Discussion Factoid Spinning

  • Fire with Fire (1709 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.


    leveymg, mrdmk, Shlabotnik and 13 othersrelgire, Enthusiast, Scott Crowder, bemildred, KenTanker0us, Koko, Iwalani88, ThomPaine, eridani, OCMI, Ohio Barbarian, nevereVereven, MistaP like this

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  • 2 months ago #5
    • MistaP (10874 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 (12709 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.


      No man ought to stay poor so another man can get rich. --Newton Knight
      • fluff (634 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 (12709 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:

          No man ought to stay poor so another man can get rich. --Newton Knight
    • ThomPaine (6845 posts)

      3. k & r and thanks for posting.

    • Deadpool (17319 posts)
      Computer Janitor

      4. On The Daily Radical!

    • KenTanker0us (527 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 (1477 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 (4976 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 (1968 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 (4976 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 (9409 posts)

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

          and very international money.

          • RealityCheck (1968 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 (4976 posts)

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


              Trump moya marionetka ~ Putin  
              • RealityCheck (1968 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.

                • Coldmountaintrail (9409 posts)

                  22. it's just a fact; he's from very old money. you can check it yourself.

                  • RealityCheck (1968 posts)

                    23. I was curious

                    by asking “How does that play into Kerry’s ‘Nam service?” Old money?? Just trying to understand the connection.

      • Illegal Smile (607 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 (5148 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.


      • Fire with Fire (1709 posts)

        18. There is nothing new about political small facts.

        My personal favorite spinning of a factoid was this little rhyme about Grover Cleveland, “Ma, Ma, wheres my pa?  Gone to the White House ha ha ha.”

        Factoid spinning is arguing about trivial details that have no political significance in and of themselves.  As I mention in the OP, I first recognized the phenomenon as the razor thin electoral college vote in 2004 turned on the factoids “remembered” from the Vietnam Era.  Regarding the attack on Bush for being AWOL, the argument turned on what kind of fonts were available for typewriter use three decades earlier.  This detail was doubly trivial in that the whole topic of military service records is concerned entirely with personality rather than policy.  Once you shrink your frame of reference down from policy to personality, then you shrink the facts down another order of magnitude smaller to the Font Question — which ended Dan Rather’s CBS career and helped Shrub get re-elected.

        What is different now than in in the 1890’s and the 2000’s is the amount of discussion about factoids.  It has pretty much replaced policy discussion altogether.

        The hamfisted comedy coming from the Tory Government in the UK concerning the attempted poisoning of the Skripals demonstrates this trend perfectly.  The basic technique of a factoid offensive is to put the controversial policy assertion in the predicate, and then the factoid proves not the predicate, but it proves that the policy in the predicate has been violated.  A flurry of mass communications “debate” then follows regarding whether the asserted factoid is true.  If it is true, then we must bomb Syria and we must impose “sanctions” on Russia.

        I firmly believe that there is in place a Brockian Strategy at work in these most absurd examples of factoid spinning.  One team of trolls puts out snarky declarations about how fucked up anybody is who does not believe that Assad used poison gas or that Putin poisoned the Skripals.  In turn, other Brockian sock puppets return the snark fire from their “alternative” websites and all over social media.  For a while, the “debate” rages on over the truth or falsity of the “factoid.”

        But the underlying policy from the predicate — that Syria or Russia using a forbidden substance like Sarin Gas or Novochok is somehow intolerable — is not part of the discussion.  What proves the absurdity of these predicate “policies” is the silly-assed shit that our Governments take in response.  Sanctions?  Give me a fucking break.  Firing a wave of missiles to blow up nothing in particular?

        The list of idiotic policies that hide in the predicate of factoid debates is long and getting longer.  Russiagate and all its mutations is nothing but one big Factoid Spinning Festival.  And there are fierce debates even on this very board about predictions of how factoids will be adjudicated at a later date, with one infamous member of the board pre-emptively gloating about how embarrassed those who predict opposite results will be.


        To summarize, factoid spinning is not the same thing as using a technique like the limited hangout or the shiny object.  Each of those can use factoid spinning to achieve their goals, but they do not necessarily require factoid spinning.  The Gas Debate about Assad is neither a limited hangout disclosure nor a distraction.  It calls attention to its policy demand — the dropping of bombs on Syria.

        • leveymg (5148 posts)

          19. The attraction of factoid spinning (I'll adopt the term) is that it doesn't

          require serious debate or even a rational underpinning.  On one level, it still fits a George Creel WW1 model of psychological warfare that says that persuasion is more about stirring underlying emotional needs and that appeals to reason is entirely secondary.

          Where contemporary war propaganda differs somewhat from the old psychological warfare model is that the appeal is no longer to outraged virtue and moral panics – propaganda posters had lots of images of Rape of Belgium and Lady Liberty in white being defiled by a beast — that requires an Edwardian sensibility to work.

          Instead, in the post-9/11 era, the Iraq War and particularly in Syria propaganda we see a lot of  images of crying or dead kids being cradled by caring men, first responder types, White Helmets in rescue roles.  That reflects a shift in the moral compass to a yearning for a “kinder, gentler” sort of masculinity and wars that must be justified on “humanitarian” grounds.  Wars now have to be sold to women largely by women.


          • Fire with Fire (1709 posts)

            21. Wars sold by women to women.

            Great insight.

            However I think it might be a little off target to say “sold” because without a draft, there is no real need for patriotic fervor — just to keep the war from being an issue at all.  Not sure of the best verb — maybe simply “presented” gets the point across.  Our wars are not big deals, they are just small efforts to save children from brutal dictators.

    • Fire with Fire (1709 posts)

      20. All Kavanaugh, All the Time

      I started this thread a few weeks ago, referencing the Dan Rather font story, the OJ Simpson Trial and the Trayvon Martin cases as examples of politically charged disputes over non-political fact questions.  And then boom!!!

      The biggest Factoid Spinning case of all time, based on an allegation of sexual assault that is asserted to have occurred decades ago.  Furious rhetoric from both “sides” resounds across the 21st Century’s version of politics.  My very favorite strand through this “debate” is, once again, about predictions.  Some say he is toast.  Others say the GOP will vote him in.  This in turn leads to contingent discussions about what will happen if he gets on the Court — or what will happen if he does not.  Turning the screw another notch, there is one thread that deals with what Nancy Pelosi will do if Kavanaugh is seated.

      The emotion is real.  The factoids show a brutal contrast in viewpoint about the significance of the allegation that a teenaged boy got drunk and terrorized a high school girl.  This amps up the indignation that is dumped upon those who disagree with your take on it.


      This is the state of our politics.  All policy discussions are out of bounds.  Politics is a function of personality, not policy.  Oddly, however, your own political affiliation offers about a 98% certain correlation with your take on the “facts.”   Republicans tell pollsters they believe Kavanaugh.  Democrats say the opposite.  And we find the “truth” by looking at the Swing Spinners of Factoids — independents and non-voters.


      A scattering of posts on JPR point out the two real life facts that suggest that this dispute is getting more attention than it deserves.

      (1)  If Kavanaugh is denied a seat on the Court, Trump will nominate somebody just as bad on policy and our “victory” will make a point about sexual assault — which most people, even Republicans, already oppose — but have no impact at all on Supreme Court decisions.

      (2)  Regardless of how significant you find the idea of keeping this kind of person off the Court, this national obsession over factoids is diverting attention from far more significant things like war.


      But most of the posts here are deep into the drama.  I’ll be glad when it’s over.  My guess is that the #me-too momentum within the professional class will lead to keeping this ass hole off the Court.  I’d sure vote against him if I was in the Senate.  But then again, I’d vote against him even if he’d never got out of line once in his life — for boring old policy reasons.

      • nevereVereven (5808 posts)

        24. +100

        Trump is a fool who may yet blunder us into war; the Dems and the Deep State cabal would give us war by design.