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Fawn The Media, Part I

Most every Sunday morning, I listen to NPR's "On The Media." I originally thought it would be a program about "the media looks at the media," as journalists turn their skeptical eyes on their colleagues, and thought it would be a good listen.

I was half right. It is, indeed, journalists looking at journalists, but those skeptical eyes are actually rather starry. Indeed, the most common theme seems to be "we're wonderful, we're hard-working, we're honest, we're honorable, and gosh darn it, why don't you trust us any more?"

Last Sunday they had two segments back-to-back that nearly made me throw my radio out the window.

The first one was entitled "The Convenient Untruths." They brought in an author whose latest book is about how people tend to believe things that reinforce their prejudices rather than actual facts.

This is a good starting point. I have often noted that, when one is making an argument, one should be most suspicious of things that tend to reinforce your own beliefs. "Too good to check" has replaced "too good to be true," and it's a very human failing. I can think of one example right off the top of my head that burned me -- the London subway shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by police back in 2005.

So, where does Farhad Manjoo, author of "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society," go off the tracks? When he decides to cite his favorite example.

Here's a section of the transcript:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you give a couple of great examples of how this plays out in the modern media world - the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which worked very hard to change the nation's understanding of John Kerry's war record.

FARHAD MANJOO: Right. They went through this very circuitous path. They held a press conference. Big newspapers and big network news outlets came. And everyone ignored what they had to say because it was apparent to these journalists that the evidence that this group had didn't really stand up.

So they went to basically every talk radio outlet in the country and they popularized their message on the Web. And they started to attract donors, which was pivotal for them because then they could run TV ads and those TV ads then sort of got amplified through the cable news and then eventually made it to, you know, network news.

And lots of newspapers and legitimate journalistic outfits ran dozens of pieces basically debunking the Swift Boat Veterans, but the people on the right, and, to some extent, people in the center who listen to people on the right, didn't have much exposure to those facts.

It's become the new, hip thing to refer to "Swiftboating" as a new form of smear, but here are a few facts about the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth and their efforts that their detractors don't like to recall -- in perfect accord with Mr. Manjoo's book:

1) the Vets got John Kerry to admit that at least a part of his Viet Nam hagiography was a crock of shit -- the "Christmas in Cambodia" story.

2) The Vets and their backers repeatedly challenged Kerry to either sue them for defamation or in some other way prove their allegations false, to the point of offering him his choice of venues fro a lawsuit and a multi-million-dollar reward (payable to him or any charity) if he could show where they were lying. Kerry, instead, being the cowardly sack he has repeatedly proven himself since he left active duty, chose instead to whine and attempt to rewrite history yet again. (Kind of like when you ask him "whose medals did you throw over the White House fence back in 1971. Kerry publicly took part in a stunt where veterans contemptuously returned their decorations to the Nixon White House. Then, years later, a reporter noticed Kerry had his medals proudly on display in his Senate office. When asked about the protest, he said the medals he threw belonged to "a friend" who couldn't make it.)

The discussion continues:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you show how false facts on both the right and the left make their way through partisan echo chambers, but you do suggest that conservatives have a different relationship with their media.

FARHAD MANJOO: Right. People have studied how conservative blogs, for instance, link to each other and how liberal blogs link to each other, and they found that the people on the right generally have a tighter network and are more likely to indulge in only those sources.

And this has been a longstanding pattern where psychologists have noticed that people on the right are more efficient at filtering out things that kind of don't really support their views.

Of course, the left is far more immune to this kind of thing. Another chorus of "Bush lied, people died," folks? Just go ahead and ask them to quote the specific lie that has them so bent ouf of shape, giving time and date and place, and watch them dig up all sorts of quotations from lesser officials that might have been proven wrong in the course of events, but a provable lie -- as in, knowing it was false at the moment of uttering, like "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky," or "I landed in Tuzla under sniper fire" or "John McCain wants us to wage a 100-year-war in Iraq," and they can't do it.

Finally, there's this doozy:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: We all know it's really easy to manipulate audio, video, and especially with Photoshop and digital images. But it was interesting - you said that the biggest effect of the Photoshopification of our society is not that it's easier to fool people but that now they have even more reason not to believe the evidence of their eyes and ears if they don't want to.

FARHAD MANJOO: If you live in a world where everything is possibly fake, where every photo you see could have been Photoshopped, it gives you license to dismiss that photo. This is true not only of photos but of basically all kind of documentary evidence that comes at us these days. We can always assume that there's been some digital foul play there and that it's possibly not a truth.

Of course, this would be a perfect opportunity to mention how we all know how easy it is to manipulate digital images, with mentions of how Reuters, the AP, and numerous other outlets have been caught faking "news" photos -- especially out of the Middle East. The general skepticism the folks here are decrying was earned the hard way. How many faked photos were exposed just during the brief Israeli attack on Hezbollah back in 2006? There was the "smoke over burning Beirut" photo, the "Israeli plane crash site" photo, the "Israeli F-16 firing missiles" photo -- Zombie has a whole page dedicated to faked or staged photos from just that brief conflict.

The crux of the piece seems to be this: "please, come back to trusting us blindly. Stop looking so carefully at our lies and history of lies, just please give us your blind trust again. And for god's sake, stop thinking for yourselves and stop listening to those who think for themselves."

A good first step in winning our trust back would be to stop dismissing their past lies as aberrations and innocent errors. Hell, some of us would settle for them to just stop lying.

But that's apparently too much to ask.


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Comments (13)

It seems this author is gui... (Below threshold)

It seems this author is guilty of exactly what he suggests others are. He believes something to be false or wrong and sets out to collect certain facts which support that view while ignoring facts that don't jibe.

"FARHAD MANJOO: Yeah. And in this world, there is the front door, the big newspapers and big network news outlets. The side doors are the blogs, talk radio, cable news, which actually draws a very small audience.

These side doors allow us to kind of amplify these factors of selective exposure and selective interpretation, and they make these factors kind of more important today than they were in the past, because in the past, you couldn't really seek out media that comported with your beliefs because, well, there weren't that many media choices.

First, one has to believe that the big media (ie. the "front door") has been honest, objective and unbiased - that CNN, CBS, NYT, LAT, AP, Reuters, etc. has not repeatedly reinforced many people's preconceived notions and beliefs?

Is he bemoaning the fact that we're getting our information from several sources, which may or may not reinforce our views, but more often gives us a fuller picture? It's true enough that there are people who simply do not want to know the truth about some things, but I think he goes a bit far in implying that if one listens to anything but big news outlets, they're only reinforcing falsehoods.

And since when does talk radio draw a "very small audience"?

BTW, Farhad Manjoo writes for Salon.

This is preemptive defense.... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

This is preemptive defense.

Ironically, what he described what the journalists did with the SwiftVets news conferences is exactly what he's trying to pin on the right non-MSM media.

By accusing your opponent of your own faults you make your opponents same claim against you look like a reflexive retort instead of a founded complaint.

In order to keep the Left's world view going, they have to resort to increasing levels of filtering the facts and spinning the rest. But even that isn't enough as JT points out. They are starting to rely on invented 'facts' to make it all make sense and keep the emotion going.

That kind of world view needs a defense mechanism against any questioning or doubt cast its way.

In the 5 hour Frontl... (Below threshold)
dr lava:


In the 5 hour Frontline documentary, "Bush's War", that aired a couple weeks ago and is available online, there is an endless parade of ex CIA, State Department, CPA, INC, ex Bush administration participants explaining in great detail how the American people were lied and manipulated into this Iraq debacle. These were the people directly involved in the process from spring 2002 until spring 2003.

The facts made crystal clear in this documentary will however be unintelligible to the RWA mind because it is incapable of doing anything other than submitting to perceived authority no matter how corrupt that authority is.

What else could explain the complete pass given these criminals in the Bush administration despite overwhelming evidence of guilt.

Ahh! Frontline, the absolut... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

Ahh! Frontline, the absolute best in objectivity. (NOT)

I do mostly go to right leaning blogs because I just do not want to be lied to like I have been from the big three for thirty years of my life.

Oh yeah! Another fact. Congress approved the restart of the Iraq war. So, 535 people lied. Does Dr. Lava even know how our government works? No. ww

FARHAD MANJOO: If you li... (Below threshold)
Tim:

FARHAD MANJOO: If you live in a world where everything is possibly fake, where every photo you see could have been Photoshopped, it gives you license to dismiss that photo. This is true not only of photos but of basically all kind of documentary evidence that comes at us these days. We can always assume that there's been some digital foul play there and that it's possibly not a truth.

You can fake documents? With, say, Microsoft Word? Well I'll be.

A while ago, I read a coupl... (Below threshold)

A while ago, I read a couple of symptoms of clinical insanity. Two that stuck out was the invention and constant use of neologisms ("new words") and absolute fixation on specific topics.

dr lava's constant rehashing of Iraq and his incessant use of such buzzwords as "RWA" (only half the time bothering to say what the letters mean, let alone define it) meet the criteria for me.

Why not start your own blog, Doc, and use THAT to enlighten us all?

J.

We agree on some stu... (Below threshold)
dr lava:


We agree on some stuff Jay, but this pass you give Bush that has cost us 4024 lives is really disturbing.

I gave up on the term "conservative" for you people long ago. RWAs are "right wing authoritarians". Books have been written on you guys. "The True Believer" by Eric Hoffer 50 years ago.

I have always been fascinated by people that can suspend reality and buy into a political cult. We saw it in Germany and Italy and now it is here in America and you guys are it.


Dr. Lava lecturing on reali... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

Dr. Lava lecturing on reality. That is rich.

I also don't remember giving GW a pass. I remember watching the debate unfold. I remember congress debating the issue and approving it. I remember the fall of Iraq, I remember the dancing in the street. I remember the voting, the constitution. I also remember Bremmer dismantling the army which was a huge error but hindsight is best and the sight most liberals like to use. Lave, we are all grown ups here. We know how to reason and think and decide on our own. You judgement and prejudices to all things conservative is telling. ww

"I have always been fascina... (Below threshold)
engineer:

"I have always been fascinated by people that can suspend reality and buy into a political cult."

When did we switch the conversation to Obama?

WildWillie:Don't w... (Below threshold)

WildWillie:

Don't waste your breath. We're racists and liars for simply being Conservative or Republican, remember? No need for intelligent discussion, just brainless accusations without any facts to back it up.

God knows why they hang out here.

Our ability to function in ... (Below threshold)

Our ability to function in the world is based on what we know. What we know is based on what we perceive. When people become lunatics, they are dangerous to themselves and others because what they perceive and what they "know" is at wild variance with reality. If you believe that you can fly, you might try it, and from a height. If you believe you are liberating men's souls by torturing them to death, you are likely (seeing yourself as a good guy) to torture men to death. Living in a fantasy world is deeply, deeply dangerous, because it causes our decisions to not match reality.

Here's the part that disturbs me: at least 20% of Americans (and possibly 30%) are, right now, living in a fantasy world. Either the progressives are living in a fantasy world, or everyone to the right of, say, Joe Biden is living in a fantasy world. Frankly, I think that it's the progressives who are out of touch with history, reality, logic and human nature; but I know that they would say the same about me. And objectively, the only way to tell is to see which group blunders into a disaster because their perceptions are at odds with reality. I find that deeply frightening, because in our two party system, the progressives sometimes get a shot at leadership (Carter, possibly Obama this year) due to sheer exhaustion with Republican stupidities after a while in office. And the progressives likely feel the same way, except that they feel that we already have been blundering into disaster after disaster.

It's not pretty, and I'm afraid that this will continue until we have another Great Depression, or a nuclear attack on a US city, or something equally beyond denial. And even then, will those who turn out to be out of touch with reality be able to spin back to their preferred state of somnolence, as they did after 9/11, by blaming it on the other guys?

Lava is hinting at the nazi... (Below threshold)
Jeff:

Lava is hinting at the nazi label :)

sweet ...

Idiot ...

Lava ... you vs my pinky .... (Below threshold)
Jeff:

Lava ... you vs my pinky ... a regular Ali vs Foreman intellectual match up ...




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