Case in point: The "IRS commissioner visited the White House eleventy billion times" conservative conspiracy theory was debunked almost immediately after it first was blurted forth from the conservative blurt-hole, when it turned out that "eleventy billion times" actually meant "less than a dozen times" and the initial confusion was caused because the blurt-holes in question did not understand what they were talking about and had to have it very patiently explained to them. The matter of this particular conspiracy theory being disproved, however, has done nothing to dissuade prominent blurt-hole haver Bill O'Reilly from continuing to state it as fact—nay, as scandal—possibly because he does not know what either of those things are:
"What I can say is that the White House still has not told the nation what the hell ... Douglas Shulman was doing in the White House all those times. What's the holdup, Mr. President? How about that transparency deal?"
The problem, dear Bill, lies not in the White House but in ourselves. Sometimes things are transparent because they are, to be literal about it, clear. This may be one of those Emperor's New Clothes situations in reverse, where White House visitation records are only "transparent" to people who have two neurons to rub together. He is committed to the bit, though, and he has fellow pundits willing to be (cough) committed with him:
The Washington Post's Bob Woodward appeared on O'Reilly's show on Monday and said:While I imagine Bob Woodward and Bill O'Reilly and the rest of Team Pantswetter would like nothing more than for the White House to spend their days explaining themselves to every individual American who has a conspiracy theory about something, how exactly is the White House supposed to get on top of a story that has already been disproven? How many flow charts will be needed, here, to satisfactorily demonstrate that 157 does not equal 11? Is this a level of math that's going to require a Darrell Issa hearing? What about a special math prosecutor, will we need one of those? I can put the movement in touch with some very qualified kindergarten students, if this thing is going to require the sort of top-notch forensic counting that requires both fingers and toes.
"You say they aren't answering this question about the 157 visits by the IRS commissioner. They should. They should get on top of this story."
The problem here is that the Republican Party has settled quite comfortably into a post-factual movement. Whether or not something is true has nothing to do with whether you can say it and whether other people should believe it: If the black guy seems to be a secretly Muslim Kenyan guy, you just freakin' go with that. If all these stupid scientific measurements are pissing you off, well, it's probably because there's a global conspiracy of scientists who like to piss you off. Duh.
In the past, we generally countered such things by relying on the people surrounding a gigantic, red-faced liar to themselves have enough of a sense of shame to back slowly from the bastard. That only works, though, if there is still a general sense of shame that can be summoned up—in other words, if being a lying bastard has some consequence. That doesn't work anymore, because the "consequence" of being a lying, conspiracy-peddling bastard is that other people will give you your own television show.