Very Quick Review: BATTLING THE BIG LIE by Dan Pfeiffer (Twelve/Hachette)

PfeifferD-BattlingTheBigLieUSHCA former Obama communications director examines the American right-wing and its use of disinformation, and the left’s struggles with messaging

In BATTLING THE BIG LIE, bestselling author Dan Pfeiffer dissects how the right-wing built a massive, billionaire-funded disinformation machine powerful enough to bend reality and nearly steal the 2020 election. From the perspective of someone who has spent decades on the front lines of politics and media, Pfeiffer lays out how the right-wing media apparatus works, where it came from, and what progressives can do to fight back against disinformation.

Over a period of decades, the right-wing has built a massive media apparatus that is weaponizing misinformation and spreading conspiracy theories for political purposes. ⁠This “MAGA Megaphone”⁠ that is personified by Fox News and fueled by Facebook⁠ is waging war on the very idea of objective truth — and they are winning. This disinformation campaign is how Donald Trump won in 2016, almost won in 2020, and why the United States is incapable of addressing problems from COVID-19 to climate change.

Pfeiffer explains how and why the Republicans have come to depend on culture war grievances, crackpot conspiracies, and truly sinister propaganda as their primary political strategies, including: 

    • Republican efforts from Roger Ailes to Steve Bannon and Donald Trump to sow distrust while exploiting the media’s biases and the Democratic Party’s blind spots.
    • The optimization of Facebook as the ultimate carrier of Trumpist messaging.
    • Educating the Left to stop clutching pearls and start “fighting fire with fire.”
    • How to fight back against the trolls spreading disinformation and hate on the Internet.

A functioning democracy depends on a shared understanding of reality. America is teetering on the edge because one of the two parties in our two-party system views truth, facts, and science as their opponent. BATTLING THE BIG LIE is a call to arms for anyone and everyone who cares about truth and democracy. There are no easy answers or quick fixes, but something must be done.

In his third book, former Obama communications director and Crooked Media host turns his attention to the 2020 election, the Republicans’ “Big Lie”, and the media and technology infrastructure that has helped to reinforce and keep that lie alive. As a long-time fan of Pfeiffer’s work with Crooked Media, I’m happy to report that his new book provides more of the clear-eyed, and well-written political analysis of his previous works.

Pfeiffer offers a well-argued and calm (though by no means passionless) critique of how the American right-wing drives and dominates political and cultural narratives in the United States. Covering everything from the mealy-mouthed obfuscation of Facebook — especially it’s top leadership, but also its rotating cast of publicity and PR flacks — to the increasingly unhinged Fox News (not to mention the online Right Wing media-sphere), and progressives’ frequent inability to navigate this media/messaging landscape, Pfeiffer gives readers a pretty broad picture of what’s happening in American politics. He examines each of the dominating narratives in political news — not only the specific issues; but also arguments that claim Fox and MSNBC are basically the same (although Pfeiffer doesn’t mention Matt Taibbi by name, it’s hard not to think that this chapter might, in part, be a response to Hate, Inc.).

Pfeiffer breaks down the mistaken belief that the mainstream media has a “left-wing bias” (he brings plenty of receipts), and shows us how many in the media contort themselves to avoid accusations of bias — to the considerable detriment of citizens. His chapters about how social media has turbo-charged the right wing messaging apparatus are particularly good. However, none of the issues or sectors discussed in the book exist in isolation, and the author does an excellent job of tying them all together, clearly explaining how each feeds into the other.

For each issue he covers, Pfeiffer offers plenty of suggestions for how Democrats and progressives can combat disinformation and attempt to address the messaging imbalance. That’s not to say the author puts all of the onus on citizens: he also provides sharp critiques of the media’s propensity to cover personalities and drama, rather than substance, when it comes to politics and policy — they have a lot of work to do as well. He doesn’t hector readers, nor does he offer the cliché platitudes that have come to dominate much of political discussion. (The Crooked Media hosts are correctly frustrated with many elected Democrats’ strategies and approaches to… well, everything.) This is an evidence-based critique, with realistic, though by no means easy, strategies to combat the ever-growing disinformation ecosystem that has come to dominate American politics and media.

I listened to the audiobook version of Battling the Big Lie. Pfeiffer’s narration was good, although strangely for someone who now makes a living as a podcaster, he came across as a little stilted for the first few chapters. Clearly he warmed to the task as he went along, but it was a bit surprising.

Battling the Big Lie is an engaging and interesting read (or listen). If you are looking for a book about the what’s happening in American politics, and what’s making it feel divorced from reality, then this book will provide you with plenty of information and suggestions for navigating the contemporary moment. Recommended.


Dan Pfeiffer’s Battling the Big Lie is out now, published in North America by Twelve (print) and Hachette Audio.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received from publisher

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