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The Denier Industrial Complex’s Molehill-to-Mountain Machine: How Conservatives Beat Progressives at Messaging

When it comes to messaging, the right wing media machine has perfected the ability to turn molehills into mountain. Progressives, on the other hand, have perfected the art of turning mountains into molehills.

Nowhere is that clearer than in the cases of clean energy and climate change (and more broadly, clean air and clean water). From the perspective of polling and public opinion, they are all issues that are very popular across the political spectrum (other than Tea Party extremists), including independents. That is, they are among the best wedge issues progressives have (see here and here).

But thanks to the steadfast rhetorical brilliance of the denier industrial complex (DIC) — aka repeating lies and half-truths endlessly — and the general fecklessness of President Obama and other key Democratic politicians, many progressives are actually convinced that climate change is a losing message and are even on the defensive on slam dunk issues like clean energy and clean air/water.

What the DIC is doing in the case of Solyndra, and what it’s doing in the case of EPA clean air regulations are worth exploring in a little more detail. The Politico reported yesterday:

CHIN MUSIC FOR MONTHS — House Republicans are planning a campaign to keep Solyndra in the news this fall, including for a busy autumn of interviews, hearings and — perhaps — more subpoenas.

They’ll start laying the groundwork this week, according to Joe Barton, who says Energy and Commerce staffers are planning to bring in “a large number of witnesses” to talk about Solyndra, including “people that are involved at various levels of this company and their contacts with various government officials.”

“Based on what the staff says,” Barton says, “we’ll decide whether they need to come before the subcommittee” for hearings.

So the key is to find some piece of a winning progressive issue that has been somewhat tarnished and repeat it to death. There’s no need to actually tell the truth since few in the media are interested in real fact checking (see “Washington Post Okays McConnell’s Lies, While Dissing Bill Clinton’s Truths”).

UPDATE: Jeff Goodell just published a great piece on “How the GOP Is Using Solyndra to Kill Clean Energy”:

Last Friday, House Republicans achieved a much-sought-after goal: to criminalize the pursuit of clean energy in America.

… Solyndra didn’t fail because they are crooks, or because they were grossly incompetent. They failed because they bet on a business model that was dependent upon silicon prices remaining high.

… we’re in the middle of a concerted campaign to demonize clean-tech entrepreneurs, one that fits into the grand narrative that fossil fuel apologists and shills have been pushing for several decades now: that America as we know it and love it runs on oil, gas, and coal, and that anyone who says otherwise is a liar, a communist, or a criminal. House Republicans are already using Solyndra’s failure as an excuse to slash federal loans to clean energy start-ups, as well as plotting a carnival of hearings and investigations that will keep this story in the news for months.

In fact, what’s criminal is not starting a solar company and losing hundreds of millions of dollars. What’s criminal is using that failure as an excuse to kill the promise of new jobs and cook the planet.

Indeed, one of the things that the DIC understands is that if you repeat something over and over again enough times, the mainstream media will pick it up because that’s how they see their job these days. The media rarely tries to figure out what’s important by itself for the American public to know any more — if they did, their coverage of global warming wouldn’t have collapsed in 2010 (see Silence of the Lambs: Media herd’s coverage of climate change “fell off the map” in 2010).

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No, having let go most of its science and environment reporters, the MSM views most every such issue through the lens of politics. Since Obama walked away from climate change, it is, ipso facto, clearly a losing issue politically, and therefore it couldn’t possibly be an important issue for their readers. Obama turned the Mount Everest of issues, global warming, into the teeniest of molehills.

But since the DIC won’t let go of Solyndra, why, that must perforce be a very important issue — so we have yet another front-page Washington Post story today. Seriously. This must be the most coverage the Post has given any renewable energy story in years.

This isn’t to say Solyndra is a non-story, only that it pales in comparison to the clean energy revolution and the painful reality of climate change, which the media is largely ignoring.

Of course, progressives deserve some blame, since they hardly ever repeat their core messages. The media has shown some willingness to go after GOP anti-science extremists on climate change, but where are the progressive politicians and pundits pushing this again and again. And, no, one off-handed sentence by Obama in a private fund raiser doesn’t count.

Climate change isn’t just the most consequential issue of our time, it is a huge winner for progressives. Stanford public opinion expert Jon Krosnick has shown that Democrats could use this as a wedge issue since it does split Republican from independents. A recent study of his found:

“Political candidates get more votes by taking a “green” position on climate change — acknowledging that global warming is occurring, recognizing that human activities are at least partially to blame and advocating the need for action — according to a June 2011 study by researchers at Stanford University.”

Public opinion expert Edward Maibach of George Mason University made a similar point in his Climate Progress post, “Polling Expert: Is Obama’s Reluctance to Mention Climate Change Motivated by a False Assumption About Public Opinion?” — a piece that also contains links to a dozen different polls coming to the same conclusion.

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Or consider the EPA. Does the public even know that they have clean air and clean water thanks to science-based EPA regulations that had broad bipartisan support for decades? How would they? Who has been telling them that in recent years?

We can’t even get a Democratic President to articulate a strong defense of less smoggy air and fewer asthma attacks for kids.

The DIC, sensing weakness, doubles down. Think Progress reported recently on “Regulation Nation”: Fox’s Roger Ailes Produces New Series To Attack Regulators Who ‘Sit In The Basement’ And ‘Try To Ruin Your Life’:

Until the President and leading progressive politicians and pundits start telling the truth over and over again, the lies of the denier industrial complex will rule the day.