Everyone in the world knows what Bill Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky, or what happened to Brad and Jennifer, Katie and Tom. These factoids mysteriously capture the world's attention. But there's a flip side to this: fog facts. Fog facts are known but not known, the sort of things that journalists and political junkies know, but somehow the world does not. The "Downing Street Memo" is a fine example. This document revealed that the head of British intelligence had been informed by his Washington counterparts that the White House was cooking the books on the information it was using to justify a war in Iraq. Yet this was not big news in America. Why? In Fog Facts, Larry Beinhart tackles this question and shows how soft-core, public relations-style political lying has been raised to an art form.
Beinhart scored satirical points last fall with his novel The Librarian, about an archivist whose talent for digging up damaging truths frightens a vast right-wing conspiracy with more than a passing resemblance to the current administration. The novel introduced the concept of the "fog fact": published information that remains unnoticed by the public. This slim volume promises to gather various fog facts about George W. Bush's presidency, but offers much more opinion than fact specifically, amazement that reporting on subjects like the allegations that Bush pulled strings to avoid going to Vietnam or committed insider trading while his father was president didn't cost him either the 2000 or 2004 election. Beinhart sees the media's failure to call more prominent attention to political lies as the source of many Americans' "delusional" worldview, which he says led to war in Iraq. But his explanation of the "Soft Machine" the media-industrial complex he says distorts our perception of reality and is the "enforcement arm of capitalism" asserts rather than explains. Beinhart's freely associative tract could have used a more nuanced argument and suffers from digressions, like a lengthy exegesis on Horatio Alger's pedophilia, that, however entertaining, stick out awkwardly in a discussion of Dick Cheney's finances.