Being a fabulist is far from fabulous

March 14, 2023 6:03 am
U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles on Nov. 8,. 2022. (Photo: John Partipilo)

U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles on Nov. 8,. 2022. (Photo: John Partipilo)

One definition of a fabulist is a serial liar (the other is an Aesop-like creator of fables). Being a liar fabulist is about as far away as one can get from being fabulous.  Thus, we come to the case of newly elected Tennessee U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles, chief beneficiary of Nashville-area gerrymandering.  NewsChannel5 in Nashville revealed that Ogles lied about his college major, and he relayed fabulist fantasies about being an economist, the nature of his work at a think tank and being an internationally recognized sex trafficking expert.

Follow-up reporting exposed further lies, but the Ogles story struggles to gain traction in the shadow of George Santos, the Long Island Republican who lied about everything from his employment to his education to his heritage.  He also faces potential criminal consequences for campaign finance chicanery.

Here, as elsewhere, we struggle under the legacy of Donald Trump lies, and our institutions for buttressing truth are crumbling.  The Washington Post Fact Checker tallied 30,573 false or misleading Trump claims during his four years in office.  That’s 21 erroneous claims a day, and the rate escalated to a climax during the Trump-inspired insurrection.

U.S. Rep. Mark Green at Gov. Bill Lee's Jan. 2023 inauguration. (Photo: John Partipilo)
U.S. Rep. Mark Green at Gov. Bill Lee’s Jan. 2023 inauguration. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Tennessee congressmen choose to echo those lies. U.S. Reps. Tim Burchett, Scott DesJarlais, Chuck Fleischmann, Mark Green, Diana Harshbarger, and John Rose all voted against state vote certification in the 2020 presidential election (they were fine with their own electoral results for the same year). Green was one of 34 members of Congress sharing conspiratorial and election nullification ideas with Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows. Green passed along a nullification idea bandied about on the far-right Newsmax.  Rose, objecting to the word insurrection, voted no on honoring Capitol Police officers with the congressional gold medal.

Thanks to the Dominion Voting Systems libel suit against Fox News, we have confirmation that Fox News hosts and executives knew their Big Lie guests were spreading falsehoods, but chose to air those serial liars anyhow.  The Big Lie continues to this day.  Politifact rated “Pants on Fire” the Tucker Carlson recent lie that Capitol Police officers “helped” QAnon Shaman Jacob Chansley and “acted as his tour guides.”

The Big Lie and other insurrection-adjacent actions would have been excellent subjects for candidate debates or elaborate and extensive news coverage.  Sadly, the 2022 campaign had precious little of either—and we’ve yet to see much news media pushback on additional inaccuracies and outright lies from Tennessee congressmen at the start of 2023.

Let’s take the example of the Republican talking point that Democrats through the Inflation Reduction Act are unleashing 87,000 new IRS agents.  Often that prevarication is paired with claims that this IRS “army” could “carry guns” and would target the middle class. rated it one of the biggest whoppers of 2022.  In fact, most new employees would replace retiring or otherwise departing workers and most new positions were customer service.  Some hires would be tax enforcers, but their audits would be targeted at collecting taxes owed by high-income persons.

U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles responded to the defunding of the IRS with “You’re fired!!!” He gets credit for the proper spelling of you’re and enthusiastic use of excess exclamation points, but low scores for accuracy regarding the bill.

This whopper lingered into 2023 thanks to a Republican-majority U. S. House and its performance art bill to cut those IRS hires.  I checked the Twitter posts of our Tennessee congressmen.  Tim Burchett after the vote, and apparently impervious to fact checks, took to Twitter to chat favorably about defunding 87,000 new IRS agents.  Mark Green celebrated “repealing funding for 87,000 new IRS agents” as did John Rose, Scott DesJarlais, Diana Harshbarger, and Chuck Fleischmann.  Andy Ogles let loose with “You’re fired!!!  Tonight we defunded Biden’s army of IRS agents set to target innocent Americans!  FBI you’re next!!!”  Give him credit for the proper spelling of you’re, and the enthusiastic use of excess exclamation points, but low scores for accuracy regarding this bill or his biography.

Our news organizations need to highlight fact checks when our congressmen pile little lies atop the big one.  Better public affairs coverage is possible, but it requires the will to do so and the recognition of its importance for informed self-governance.


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Mark Harmon
Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon is a professor of journalism and media at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.