|In case you missed
it: The Press Trust of India news agency reported last week that, according to
an unidentified official in the Indian government, Obama's visit will cost $200
million a day. The item was picked up and linked by the conservative website
the Drudge Report, then repeated on Fox News Channel by former governor Mike
Huckabee. A day later, Rep. Bachmann appeared on CNN and declared: "The
president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected
to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day. He's taking 2,000 people with him.
He'll be renting out over 870 rooms in India...This is the kind of over-the-top
spending (that voters oppose)."
The day after that, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage all delivered
extended radio rants about the $2 billion trip. Only then did other media catch
up and make clear that the figures are wildly untrue; that a trip of similar
length by President Clinton cost roughly $43 million, total, and Obama's trip
would likely add up to about the same.
The lesson here goes beyond the fact that zealots across the political spectrum,
especially on the right, will jump at any chance to use shreds of half-truths
and even complete falsehoods to build a case of public opinion against their
opponents. This was also a laboratory example of the way in which unchecked and
unsubstantiated stories can go viral on the Internet and global television, giving
a half-truth its own half life of many months or even years.
Drudge, Limbaugh – and perhaps Bachmann – know very well, without
research, that the 10-day presidential trip couldn’t possibly cost $2 billion.
They said what they did knowing it was false, while also resting assured that
as long as it existed somewhere in print, even on the website of an Indian news
agency, it could be repeated without risk. That’s why, when later confronted
with the facts, Bachmann insisted she was only stating what had appeared in “the
Indeed, the primary function of Drudge Report – and some would argue
Daily Kos on the left – is to be a digital bulletin board for material
that can then be cited as having “been published.”
Meanwhile, it's been noted that although $200 million a day is bizarrely out
of the question, 200 million Rupees (the Indian currency) converts to a far more
reasonable sum of about $4.5 million.
Daily tab for a presidential journey: 200 million Rupees. Maintaining some
semblance of truth and honesty in the digital age: priceless.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.