“It’s been widely reported”

… in rightwing media that someone in the White House has a mute button to turn Biden off when he begins sounding senile.

And a United States Senator was determined to get to the bottom of it. So he grilled Biden’s secretary of state about it in a Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

Sen. Jim Risch, from Idaho, is the ranking Republican on that committee. He demanded to know who has the mute button. Anthony Blinken replied, nobody.

Risch, not taking no for an answer, insisted. “Are you unaware that this is actually happening?” he says. “It was widely reported.”

No, it’s not actually happening. Blinken told him that several more times. Read this story.

But he’s right about it being “widely reported.” It’s yet another lie, of the countless lies, circulated by rightwing media.

CNN says, “This would all be funny if it wasn’t so serious.” No, it’s not funny, it’s emblematic of how the entire Republican Party is replacing facts with “widely reported” false rumors in public discourse.

It’s not an honest mistake. Risch is a 77-year-old lawyer who’s been a prosecuting attorney, law school instructor, a U.S. Senator for 12 years, and before that a state governor. It’s not like he’s a babe in the woods in politics, or doesn’t know how to question doubtful factual assertions.

Most likely he’s trying to discredit the president by repeating a shabby smear he knows is false. But maybe he’s just senile. In this Q&A, he certainly doesn’t come across as someone in full command of his faculties.

Before I close this article, I want to shed light on this “it’s been widely reported” meme, so often heard in Republican rhetoric. It’s a tactic to spread lies, smear opponents, and delegitimize elections. In its most prominent manifestation, Republicans have spread lies and false conspiracy theories that serve to undermine their base’s trust in elections, then seize upon their supporters’ distrust of elections as an excuse to attack voting rights and even justify the violence we saw on January 6. But lying, and people believing your lies, justifies nothing.

Risch is pushing a lie that almost seems petty and trivial, but it’s not. By insinuating that Biden is senile and incompetent, he seeks to delegitimize his presidency and undermine his authority to govern. That’s an indirect attack on our democracy, but an attack nonetheless.

This isn’t your grandfather’s Republican Party. Today’s Republicans lie about everything, big and small. You can’t believe anything they say. That includes the party’s old farts like Risch who ought to know better. Polls and election results show a growing majority of Americans realize this, and profoundly distrust Republicans on every topic. While their behavior harms all of us, in the end they’re hurting themselves most of all, by delegitimizing their party and turning reasonable people away from everything the GOP used to stand for.

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