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Friday, December 03, 2004


One of the things that kept bugging me during the presidential campaign is that the American people seem so deluded, taking rumors to be fact. I thought "How gullable are Americans?" I mean, something like 70% of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the World Trade Center attack on 9/11. It's this weird mythology that's developed and is now the truth in most people's minds. At least a third of Americans believe that we did find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but none were ever found. There seems to be a situation where if I hear it from someone I trust, or if I hear it enough times, it must be true.

Now here's the rub. All of the above is true, and that is worrisome, but it's also nothing new. The Boston Massacre was not a massacre. Richard the Third was not a murderer nor a hunchback, though most history books say so. (In truth, it was his successor, Henry VII who had the princes put to death.) And heck, who knows what Jesus was really crucified for. It was a common punishment for all sorts of civil crimes and the cross only became a symbol of the religion after the crucifiction. Some conjecture he was no more than a common horsethief, though lack of any primary sources dating back that far means we'll never learn the truth of Jesus's life.

And any rate, the human animal is far more likely to believe the simple mythology it is told repeatedly than to be concerned enough to investigate independently. If they've heard the same thing three times from three different sources, it's probably true. History is little more than the propaganda of the moment that managed to stick and usurp any inconvenient facts. I guess I had wrong-headedly assumed that in this modern age of the internet, enough folks would be publishing primary sources and calling out lies that kings and politicians would be less able to paint the picture as they pleased, but they have the forum to provide extensive repetition. And in the mind of a human, repetition = truth.


  • A UC Berkeley linguistics professor, George Lakkof, is presently making a name for himself by explaining how the use of language figures into politics and how conservatives as a whole have used it better than liberals have. He has two books and a DVD out on it. I'm happy to loan you the dvd if you want.

    By Blogger Chris S, at 11:38 PM  

  • I blame the media. Seriously, you're right when you say that if people hear the same "fact" from several different sources, they will tend to believe it.

    So where are these 70% hearing that Saddam Hussein was involved with 9/11? It's not conservative talk radio because I listen to those shows all the time, and they never state that. It's not the Republican spin machine, because their message is usually filtered by the major media so you only hear a few seconds of any message.

    I really believe the problem is a lack of good solid reporting from the mainstream media such as the network news, NY Times, etc. They are far more interested in running polls and then report the results as news, or sensationalized stories based on shaky evidence, rather than solid factual in depth reporting. Bottom line, they've grown fat and lazy. The real reporting is done by scrappy start ups and even bloggers, ala Rather's phony National Guard document story.

    It got so bad during the election, that I stopped watching the network news altogether, and generally skipped the world and national news section of the Mercury News. During that time I was getting my news from NPR, Fox News, and various internet sites that carried political commentary. Despite its liberal bent, NPR far surpasses any other major media news for solid in depth reporting.

    By Blogger Kevin, at 9:31 AM  

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