Joe Garcia and the Derp Gap

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 22 2014 8:56 AM

Joe Garcia and the Derp Gap

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Matt Kibbe, on his way to feed the propaganda machine.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Normally, I wouldn't write about the same small story twice in two days. But yesterday, in an aside, I mentioned that the Drudge Report was sending readers to a video of Rep. Joe Garcia talking on a Google Hangout and joking that the massive build-up of border guards proved that "communism works." The relevant part:

Let me give you an example, the kind of money we’ve poured in: So the most dangerous—sorry, the safest city in America is El Paso, Texas. It happens to be across the border from the most dangerous city in the Americas, which is Juarez. Right? And two of the safest cities in America, two of them are on the border with Mexico. And of course, the reason is we’ve proved that Communism works. If you give everybody a good, government job, there’s no crime. But that isn’t what we should be doing on the border. The kind of money we’ve poured into it, and we’re having diminishing returns.

Originally, my target was a goofy Drudge Report lede for the story that just quoted Garcia's "we've proved that Communism works" and sent readers to a Daily Caller story. But after I posted, the political action group FreedomWorks created a meme and petition based on a version of the Garcia quote that bore no resemblance to reality.

Rep. Joe Garcia (D., Fla) thinks “communism works.”
Seriously. A sitting Representative in the United States government thinks Communism actually works, and that forced redistribution of wealth is the key to prosperity in America.  

It just defies belief that people literate in English could watch the Garcia clip and then write that. Garcia was being sardonic—"communism" obviously wasn't working, because with "the kind of money we’ve poured into it," the country was "having diminishing returns." How do you get from there to Garcia believing "forced redistribution of wealth is the key to prosperity"? You don't, unless you lie, and unless you count on people to ignore the video itself and just froth about your spin.*

This is a perfect example of what I semi-seriously like to call the Derp Gap. Liberals can be driven to distraction or action by stupid things, as can conservatives. Certainly, all manner of political ads are created to share a misleading piece of information with low-information voters. But I don't think the left has any news source/funnel comparable to the Drudge Report. A bogus story, if it appears there, attracts tens or hundreds of thousands of views. If the bogusness of the story becames apparent later—or immediately—the views don't get canceled out.

There's traffic bait on the left, obviously, often in the form of did-you-see-this quotes from random state legislators. Rarely do you click on those stories and discover that the legislator is as powerful as the headline made it seem, but rarely are the quotes just wrong. On the other hand, as Alex Pareene demonstrated humorously in 2012, the Drudge Report often throws links to straight-up whoppers. There's no backlash or fall-off in readership. The readers keep coming back. The FreedomWorks Garcia petition, which is a nice distraction from the high-profile Senate loss of Matt Bevin, has 17,000 Facebook shares. The goal isn't to inform, but to build the tribe.

*A smarter-sounding conservative attack on Garcia has focused on his weird line about "border problems in Puerto Rico." Doesn't this goofball realize Puerto Rico is an island, and U.S. territory? Yes, and he's a Floridian who's probably aware of the surge of Puerto Ricans fleeing the island for Florida.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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