Conference or Event
Western Political Science Association
African American Studies
Early in 2011, a colleague asked, “When did we start just making shit up?” By “we,” she meant Americans but also, more specifically, those involved in politics—directly or as interested parties.
We answer her question variously in this paper. But our overarching answer is that politicos started flatly concocting misinformation when our propaganda polity mutated into a pseudocracy.
We wend our way to that answer as follows. After reviewing answers we deem insufficient, we provide two sorts of tentative, rough answers. Our first answer is that the stretching of what counts as an untruth combined with the lengthening of political con jobs yielded “pseudocracy,” a system in which falsehoods proliferate, both absolutely and as relative to definable, defensible truth and honesty. Our second sort of answer is that before “we” started just making shit up, propagandists in general and mass media, mass marketing, and mass electioneering in particular started from and adhered to verifiable or at least plausible renderings of reality as much and as well as they could. Through the latter parts of the 20thcentury and continuing into the present century, we then argue, developments in old and new media, “advances” in marketing, and innovations in electioneering evolved multiple ways in which to purvey untrue, misleading claims, shibboleths, innuendos, and propagandas
 We take the “we” in her question to refer mainly to the United States polity as a whole, but we concede that the question might embrace subsets of that polity: 1) politicians and those who work with them and for them; 2) those who pay for politicians’ services and tell them what to do or what to say; 3) pundits, news-readers, media-performers who talk politics; 4) professional and amateur partisans and ideologues; 5) academics like us; or some combination of subsets one through five. We do not, however, take our colleague to have meant the person in the street. That person is more likely to repeat shit than to just make shit up, at least when it comes to politics.
Haltom, William and Hans A. Ostrom. "'When Did We Start Just Making Shit Up?'"Origins of U. S. Pseudocracy. Conference Paper. Panel 10.05. “New Directions: Twitter, Film, Celebrity, and Pseudocracy.” Western Political Science Association Meeting. October 2012. Portland, Oregon.