Jeffrey M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj in Salon:
Michele Bachmann kicked off her 2012 presidential campaign in Waterloo, Iowa, where she was born and spent most of her childhood. During the speech announcing her candidacy, Bachmann emphasized her connections to the community, a theme she continued in subsequent interviews. In one interview with Fox News, Bachmann suggested that she shared the spirit embodied by John Wayne, Waterloo’s other native son. Unfortunately, the candidate’s facts were incorrect; John Wayne hailed from Winterset, Iowa, not Waterloo. This would have been a small detail, except that another nationally known John Wayne, John Wayne Gacy—who raped and murdered 33 boys in the 1970s—did, for a time, live in Waterloo. This left some in the media assuming that she had confused the two men. In an information environment rife with outrage outlets, it was more than a gaffe. It was political pornography. If you are an outrage-based liberal blog, headlines such as Wonkette’s “Michele Bachmann Launches 2012 Presidential Campaign by Praising ‘Killer Clown’ John Wayne Gacy,” are great for traffic, even if they are patently inaccurate. The video clip of Bachmann’s blunder hit YouTube and was posted on several liberal blogs including the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos, and reappeared on the left-leaning cable news analysis shows. After Keith Olbermann aired it on “Countdown,” he quipped (in response to Bachmann’s reference to her “spirit”), “The kind of spirit that mixes fact, fantasy, and often sheer stupidity in a potent blend that is really all her own.”
…Like Sarah Palin’s “refudiate” or Anthony Weiner’s repeated sexting faux pas, Bachmann’s serial killer faux pas was tantalizing click-bait—a snarky jab at a favorite target—too good to pass up. Indeed, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s New Media Index, a full third of the newslinks on blogs from the week of the John Wayne Gacy error were about Michelle Bachmann, with her candidacy and the John Wayne Gacy gaffe noted as sharing the spotlight. This political mudslinging is not new, but over the last 25 years outrage as a genre has grown exponentially. In this chapter we dispel the myth that the outrage we see today has always been present—an unfortunate but unavoidable side effect of American democracy—showing that while outrage as a rhetorical style was not recently invented, its emergence as a genre is new.