Anyone who remembers death panels and birtherism would find the litter box moral panic unremarkable. The past 25 years of American politics have shown us that the pipeline from right wing talking point to repetition in the right wing media echo chamber to sincerely held GOP base belief is unstoppable and impervious to fact checking. This is amplified by the Republican style of messaging. Make bold unsupported claims. Assume (correctly) that the media can be bullied into repeating it by covering it under the umbrella of Bothsidesism. Then cry censorship and cancel culture if anyone challenges or checks it. This unstoppable force of shamelessness and bad faith turns nonsense and conspiracy theories into moral panics with clockwork precision.
And this leads us to littergate.
At least 20 conservative candidates and elected officials have claimed this year that K-12 schools are placing litter boxes on campus or making other accommodations for students who identify as cats, according to an NBC News review of public statements.
Every school district that has been named by those 20 politicians said either to NBC News or in public statements that these claims are untrue. There is no evidence that any school has deployed litter boxes for students to use because they identify as cats.
Fact checking this is a waste of time. They do not care if this is true.
In 2015 half of Republicans thought that WMD was found in Iraq. By that time an entire decade had passed without finding WMD. In 2017 half of Republicans thought Obama was born in Kenya. Everyone had seen the birth certificate. A majority of Republicans think the election was stolen and will continue to echo that, even when contradicted by Trump.
Sincerely held base beliefs do not exist due to lack of earnest fact checking. Rather, the base holds on to those beliefs because they are politically useful. And the base ejects those beliefs once they cease being useful. Frequently, conservatives dismissed the fact checkers as biased or spun conspiracies about who was paying the fact checkers.
In his book On Bullshit, Harry G. Frankfurt argues that the difference between lies and bullshit is that while a liar knows what the truth is and chooses falsehood, the bullshitter does not know the truth and does not care. So of course this kitty litter story is bullshit. And without doubt it is being repeated by people who simply do not care if it is true. It is being repeated because it is politically useful for people who want an excuse to attack teachers they view as insufficiently compliant to the conservative cause.
Hence the frustration when I see earnest fact checking of bullshit.
Time wasted covering this is a those darn Republicans believe something silly story would be better spent explaining why they are repeating it. Explaining to the 2/3rd of America that isn’t part of the GOP base that 1/3 of the country has no use for the truth and will simply accept any politically useful statement as the truth is both useful and necessary. It’s down right harmful to act as if this is just the lack of fact checking.
That litter scoop can be found on kickstarter.