The limits of misinformation

One Republican congresswoman, convinced that an imaginary high-speed rail line is in the stimulus bill, finds out the truth.

Published March 4, 2009 6:00PM (EST)

One California columnist has a great story that's getting attention around the blogosphere now -- an account of his trip to the office of Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif. The columnist, Dick Spotswood, writes:

While a social moderate, Sonny Bono's widow is a solid conservative. Talked to her about Obama's $780 billion stimulus legislation. She's outraged that the plan has "$1 billion wasted on a magnetic-levitation train from L.A. to Sin City" - all at Nevada Sen. Harry Reid's doing.

After expressing my doubt that the Las Vegas line was actually in the bill's language, Bono Mack directs her staff to "get him the bill, it's right there, show him." A few minutes later, a staffer emerges with a copy and quietly says "it's not in the bill."

This is the kind of thing that would be an interesting if not all that informative if it were not emblematic of a larger issue. It's now gospel in Republican circles that this train project was in the stimulus bill, no matter what the facts are, and unless one columnist visits every GOP congressional office and pulls this off, the story's unlikely to die.

My friend Steve Benen observes, "I'm sure that was embarrassing for the congresswoman, but it's nevertheless an illustrative moment. Rep. Bono Mack probably heard somewhere -- cloakroom, Fox News, Limbaugh -- that this HSR project is real, and she assumed she'd been told the truth. If Spotswood's anecdote is accurate, she was certain it was true. Bono Mack wasn't lying to the columnist; she just didn't know what she was talking about."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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