Thursday, February 19, 2009

Zombie Mice Must Die

Geez, people. For the ten thousandth time: there is no money in the stimulus bill for salt marsh mice! Cripes. That lie has been debunked fifty ways to Thursday and Republicans are still trotting it out. And the corporate media--predictable outlets like Fox News, but also so-called “liberal media” places like CNN and MSNBC--dutifully repeat the talking point.

Here it is again, out of the mouth of Ken Spain, NRCC spokesman, as he tries to explain how Republicans aren’t hypocrites for taking money from a stimulus package they so vigorously opposed:
"We would like to thank the DCCC for circulating these comments. They are proof-positive that Republicans stood willing and ready to support commonsense measures in the stimulus package until Nancy Pelosi unfortunately chose to undercut President Obama's message of bipartisanship by including absurd pork-barrel spending projects such as millions to protect a mouse in the San Francisco Bay, golf carts for government bureaucrats, and STD prevention funds. Republicans said 'yes' to a true stimulus package, but unanimously said 'no' to putting the politics of pork before the needs of the middle class," said Spain.

Yeesh. Ken Spain knows better, I’m sure he does.

For those who have been living in a hole, here’s how the lie started:

The tale began Wednesday, when Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent an e-mail to reporters and political leaders that noted Republican staff members have been asking federal agencies how they would spend the stimulus money.

"One response? Thirty million dollars for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay Area — including work to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse," wrote Steel.

The Washington Times then wrote a story citing Steel and claiming that $30 million for the mouse project is contained in the bill. The paper suggested the money was put there by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. Blogger Matt Drudge, whose Web site receives 26 million hits a day, posted a link to that story.

So the Washington Times fabricates a story and Drudge pushes it onto the cable news media. Count me not shocked.

Even Michael Steel, the guy who started the whole thing, said the Washington Times’ story was wrong:

"There is no language in the bill that says this money will go to this project," Steel told the San Jose Mercury News. "There are large pots of money in the bill that go to various agencies. One of those agencies said the salt marsh harvest mouse project is something we'd do if you gave us the money."

Well, not quite. For the record, the wetlands where the salt marsh supposedly lives is not even in Pelosi’s district--The Times made up the Pelosi “pork” connection and the $30 million figure is not for one project but five around the state:

The conservancy's wish list included five major ongoing wetlands restoration projects totaling nearly 4,000 acres, said civil engineer Steve Ritchie, a Coastal Conservancy staff member who helped draw it up. And the federal Army Corps of Engineers included all five projects on its own list of possible ways to spend stimulus money.

The projects, which range from Napa County to Silicon Valley, involve moving levees, creating islands and converting former industrial salt ponds back to marshes. Each could begin by year's end and would benefit dozens of species, including salmon, steelhead trout, ducks, egrets, and yes, the endangered mouse, Ritchie said.

The work also would provide increased flood protection to homes and businesses around San Francisco Bay, he said. In 2003, the Bush administration endorsed and helped fund the largest of the projects, the purchase of former Cargill salt ponds for wetlands restoration.

One of the most frustrating things about our current discourse, as a wise person recently pointed out, is that discussions about policy inevitably disintegrate into arguments over whose facts are right.

This is why we’ll never have bipartisanship. We don’t just have different policy approaches, we occupy different worlds. There’s no meeting in the middle when you can’t agree on where you’re starting from.

And yes, I blame the media for not doing its job. The Tennessean lets Terry Frank pull facts out of her ass (such as heterosexual couples have “fidelity rates of 75-90 percent.”) The Washington Post prints David Ignatius’ fabrication that there’s a Social Security crisis. Religious attack groups continue to peddle the lie that a provision in the stimulus bill banned religious activity at school facilities and Fox News repeats the lie as if it were fact.

Steve Benen hit the nail on the head this morning while discussing another zombie lie that refuses to die: the whole phony Obama-American flag thing. While discussing the Washington Times’ latest piece on this non-story and how it’s been picked up by Drudge and others, Benen writes:

It seems we've reached a point in which pseudo-journalists create pseudo-news content for the sole purpose of drawing the attention of people like Drudge, Allen, and the people behind The Note. Indeed, they've apparently learned quite well exactly what works -- publish a news-free article about the president and flags, and wait for the chatter.

Publishing news-free articles about Nancy Pelosi and marsh mice works, too.