Late Wednesday night, when the editors were sleeping, Sally Kohn used Ryan's incendiary performance to light a fuse. I've been watching all day as FOX vainly tries to contain the blaze.
The story about Ryan's completely unintentional political suicide has FOX caught between a rock and a hard place. If Kohn's story about Ryan's deceit, "Paul Ryan's Speech in Three Words," continues to spread unchecked, historians may wind up marking this event as the moment Ryan cost Romney the election. On the other hand, if FOX summarily yanked the top trending article on their web site, historians would likely mark that event as the moment FOX stopped pretending to be anything remotely resembling a news organization. Either way, I think someone could get a thesis paper out of what is happening here.
Below the fold, I follow the carnage as it unfolds with screen captures from a variety of Internet resources. The magnitude of damage is second only to the magnitude of Ryan's mendacity. Unlike Ryan's mendacity, however, this story is still spreading at an incredible clip.
Now that we have that out of the way, take a look at What's Trending on FOX "News". Between the time I took this screen capture and now, the actual facebook shares has doubled. At
ACTION ITEM: 7:36 PM PT: Before we get started, take a moment and join those of us who think we need to recognize Paul Ryan for his outstanding work as the first politician with the vision necessary to lead us in to the post-factual era of American politics. Sign the petition:
Guinness World Records US: Award Paul Ryan the World Record for Most Lies in a political speech.
If you look at Reddit's politics section, this story is not in the top ten of the HOT list in politics. This story IS THE TOP TEN of the Reddit HOT List. Actually, it is the TOP FIFTEEN ARTICLES. Some have thousands of up votes. My favorite is currently #9 on the list, titled
I'd like to see the entire front page be nothing but stories about Paul Ryan's dishonesty. Enough is enough. We've been a nation of lies for too long.
Well, it looks like someone is going to get their wish.
I'm not even going to bother looking at how this story is lighting up the blogosphere. It's much bigger than that. Next let's look at Google. But this time, I am going to use a search strategy you may not be familiar with. Instead of using Google to find stories that refer to Ryan's lying, I am going to look for sites that have ALREADY been spidered and have a link BACK to Kohn's original story on FOX News.
Between the time I took that screen capture and now, the number of sites linking to the story has grown from about about 1,000 to
1,420 3,510. There are some heavyweight sites in there. The Guardian, CBS News, The Wall Street Journal, etc. Serious people have taken notice of Ms. Kohn's article.
Clearly this thing has gone viral. Clearly it is spreading like wildfire. Here's how fast it is moving: Alexa, the Amazon property that markets itself as "the leading provider of free, global web metrics," had Kohn's article listed as #2 on it's What's Hot list when I took the screen capture. Now it is about #5 on the list. That is a list of what web pages RIGHT NOW are getting the most Internet traffic based on input they receive from the millions of users who have the alexa toolbar installed in their browser. Sally Kohn was in their top 10 topics.
If you tried to buy this kind of visibility, it would cost you hundreds of millions of dollars. As it turns out, someone inadvertently spent that much money to generate all this hype. Guess who that was. I will give you a hint. Their initials are GOP and FOX.
That's right, the GOP spent tons of cash to generate interest in their convention and their candidates. FOX spent tons of cash building out its social networking channels and visibility on Cable TV. And after they built this propaganda machine of epic proportions, they handed Ryan the keys and let him take it out on the track.
The whole world is now watching him take the wheel, slam the pedal to the metal, barrel outside the lines of decency, crash through the guard rails of common sense, and fling himself face first off the Cliffs of Mendacity... a lunatic leap Evel Knievel would have declined to attempt.
While it's a great show, it does present a bit of a problem for the folks who are footing the bill. The Republican Party is certainly in trouble, but with Romney ready to take the stage, they have bigger headaches coming their way. They can make all the frantic phone calls they want, no one is going to be able to help them. Right about now I'm betting Romney and his laissez faire capitalist cronies in the GOP are envying the hell out of the communists in China.
FOX, on the other hand, is watching the air rush out of their balloon and wondering how they can help Ryan land this hunk of burning crap without leaving a crater. Their normal approach of blanketing the airwaves and calling in the radio blowhards won't help them this time. This fire is burning out of control and gaining oxygen as it spreads. Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly and every other pundit on the FOX payroll or Rolodex can blow as much smoke as they want, it won't help.
This is a communications problem that needs a technical solution to stem the bleeding. It appears they've tried everything they can think of. If you go to their Trending on FOX page, you can see where the link is now. The article was written in their Opinion section, so you would expect to see it in the Opinion tab of the Trending Now page. But you don't. It's gone.
If you look for this on the FOX Home page and the only way you can find it is if you scroll down three screens and look for the trending tags. Usually, that is a great way to bury something in plain sight. It is well documented that 75% of users don't scroll down when looking for links. It's doubly ironic their hottest story all day isn't Featured.
If you go to the Opinion page, you have to scroll down as well to find the story buried in a pile of other stuff. Again, this is a good way to bury it so folks will miss it when they browse. Unfortunately for FOX the Trending links give it away.
It's clear the trending links are generated from a database query that measures hits to pages and shares to facebook. It is also clear they can play with the data fields to manipulate the listing. For awhile, they were trying to saturate the trending links with noise to see if they could dislodge the beast who clings stubbornly to the top position. At one point, they even had a link as "trending" with 0 shares and 0 likes! But nothing can dislodge this beast.
Here is where reality bites them in the ass. Technically, there is nothing that stops them from simply deleting the data or changing the pointers so folks wind up getting a run around. But since this beast began to grow overnight, it was already well established by the time someone came in to work the next day and realized they had a problem on their hands. Rip it out now and EVERYONE will notice. Airbrushing is not going to take care of that. The way Kohn wrote her article, you really can't pretty it up with editorializing either. No matter how you cut it -- she has it in the title -- Paul Ryan's Speech in Three Words. Hmmmm.... I wonder what those could be....
This leaves them with one option. They have to obfuscate. Their first effort was to rapidly deploy an article written by Matthew Kibbe, "Ryan's Speech Builds Trust Among Grassroots Conservatives." The article got about 1000 facebook shares, putting it on the Trending list, but it quickly fell off. I guess they just don't make astroturf the way they used to, eh? As a side note, running that story through Sunlight Foundations Poligraft tool yields interesting results. As the article notes at the bottom of the page, Kibbe is head of FreedomWorks. Bringing in the big gun made sense, but it was too little, too late.
By the time they realized that failed, the independent fact checkers like Politifact had all weighed in on the central claims of Ryan's fact-free frolic. To counter that, FOX now has a piece up called "FACT CHECK: Paul Ryan's convention address." It's NUMBER TWO on the Trending list -- with 82 facebook shares and 87 tweets! Right behind NUMBER ONE that has now grown from 61,000 facebook shares when I started writing this to
72,000 89,000 95,000 facebook shares. The Tweets still keep coming. They have since grown from 14,000 to 19,000 21,000 and climbing.
So now you can appreciate the problem FOX is having. The story running out of control is getting about 1000 fold greater exposure than their best efforts to spike it. Using that approach to slow this raging inferno will be about as effective as stopping a charging rhino by throwing buckets of water on it.
Welcome to the Bonfire of the Inanities. Thank you Icarus.
UPDATE: 5:14 PM PT: This is rich. Since I posted this article, FOX has updated their Trending list to bump the story to number two BEHIND A STORY WITH ZERO shares and ZERO tweets!
HEY MR DJ I WANNA DEDICATE THIS NEXT SONG TO "MUSTANG SALLY" KOHN!! A WOMAN GOING PLACES NELLIE BLY COULD ONLY DREAM OF SEEING!!!!