Demanding the truth

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Edwin Feulner – Heritage News Forum

Winston Churchill said: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” That was in the pre-digital age.

Now we enjoy a 300-channel, ever-connected world. Today that lie is around the world and knocking at the door before the truth has even fetched the morning paper. In fact, before that paper is even printed, the lie has probably bounced around the TV, radio and Internet echo chamber for hours.

A recent example of this occurred as Barbra Streisand was being honored with something called the Humanitarian Award. She took the opportunity – in true humanitarian fashion – to lash out at conservatives.

“[Conservatives] can take a lie huckstered by The Heritage Foundation,” Streisand announced, “repeat it on Fox, hit it on Limbaugh, print it in the Wall Street Journal, until it’s coming out of every media outlet imaginable. Repeating lies over and over doesn’t make them any more true. But it does make people believe the lies a little more until finally they stop demanding the truth.”

Streisand’s scenario is pure fantasy.

For one thing, Heritage doesn’t lie. In fact, many of our critics, while taking issue with our viewpoints, praise our rigorous devotion to accuracy. There’s a reason the media sought out our analysts for more than 2,500 interviews last year: Those reporters know what we are going to say is factual. Even though they may disagree with us politically, they still want to hear the facts.

Streisand also errs by dragging up the old “vast right-wing conspiracy” Hillary Clinton made famous. Talk about repeating a lie over and over.

Mind you, I certainly wish Heritage could fire up a media assembly line and crank out favorable news coverage. But in fact, the media tend to be liberal, not conservative.

Sure, talk radio and Web “blogs” have made conservative ideas more influential. And on cable, Fox News does seem to have a conservative flavor, especially in contrast to its more liberal counterparts.

Still, the big three networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) get a combined 25 million viewers for their nightly news shows. Fox News’ top show averages about 3 million. Clearly the supposed conservative spin machine has a ways to go to overtake the dominance of the traditionally liberal media.

About the only thing Streisand got correct was the part about repeating lies. That quickly happened in her case.

Less than a week later, John Kerry’s campaign manager was interviewed on National Public Radio. “Well, the difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party,” Mary Beth Cahill told Juan Williams on March 12, “is that the Republicans have an echo chamber where they’re able to start a rumor on a Web page, move it on to the radio to right-wing radio commentators, get it on to certain supposedly public affairs shows which have a complete Republican slant and start a noise, which is pretty scurrilous. It’s become an accepted part of the media.”

Just two days later, Williams did some name-dropping on Fox News Sunday. “I was talking to Mary Beth Cahill this week,” Williams announced. “She believes the right wing, and the supporters of President Bush, have the ability to start a rumor on the Internet. It gets them into the right-wing radio and to Rush Limbaugh and the like. And then it suddenly gets repeated all over the TV discussions shows, and suddenly, then it’s taken as legitimate by mainstream media, mainstream press.”

Imagine that. It took just eight days for a political lie from a Hollywood celebrity to be picked up and circulated on NPR, which we know is controlled by liberals, and Fox News, which we’re told conservatives dominate. And the truth didn’t even have its pants on yet.

Now it does. Sorry, Barbra.

Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (, a Washington-based public policy research institute.