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April 28, 2014 5:20 PM The Banality of Yesterday’s Evil

By Ed Kilgore

As you may recall, the Clinton Library executed a major data dump recently, and as you may have noticed, a lot of the talk was about the famous “vast right-wing conspiracy” memo of 1995 that supposedly exposed Hillary Clinton’s paranoia.

But as an article by the memo’s author, Chris Lehane, at Politico Magazine, explains, what’s amazing is how, well, banal the allegations now seem. Take out the word “conspiracy” and the whole thing sounds like a mild description of an obvious reality rather than an accusation:

The technology that seemed so novel in 1995 has spread to where anyone with a Wi-Fi connection is able to select from whom, how, where and when they receive information and then leverage it. News no longer comes from three networks and the morning paper, but from tens of thousands of potential sources. By using Google, Bing or other search engines, it is possible to instantaneously seek information and swiftly make decisions based on sources the user selects. People can—and certainly do—opt out of receiving information from specific media outlets while opting in to others. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in information conveyed through self-selected social media sites—social networking sites, content-sharing platforms, blogs and micro-blogs—surged 75 percent between 2011 and 2012 alone.
It’s not just a few people on the Web spewing Vince Foster-sightings anymore. Today, thanks to this opt in/opt out dynamic, ever-larger segments of the population can believe in completely ungrounded conspiracy theories—such as that President Obama was not born in the United States—despite a massive trove of assiduously documented evidence to the contrary. Take, for example, Fox News’s non-stop coverage of the supposed cover-up surrounding the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, which at times has veered into self-parody—segments hyping shoddy reports produced by the very same people who believe Obama was born in Kenya. Or its coverage of IRS-gate, Solyndra or any other number of fever-swamp-driven pseudo-scandals that mainstream outlets have looked into and found rather less scandalous. And all of these nothingburger stories get duly hyped on zillions of right-wing websites, on conservative talk radio and on the Drudge Report, which boasts more traffic than ever, though it looks pretty much the same as it did during the Clinton years.

Yep. Pretty much the same as during the Clinton years—just a whole lot more of it.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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