I hadn’t seen Bill Moyers have a piece up on the Truthout site before even though he may have. He does now though. I’ve been reading through it and you gotta hand it to him he doesn’t miss much.
His topic of the day is about the proclivity for people to retain beliefs even in the presence of facts which completely disprove those beliefs. This remains true even when they have been informed of their error. This has been much written about of late. I’m not going to go back over the last couple of years and dig up the articles but the phenomena has had the treatment.
This piece is long so if you are so inclined to click the link have your coffee cup full and the pot warming or as is the practice of some denizens of Paradigm, have a six pack handy.
Moyers has refined the art of story telling so if you are enamoured of background you won’t be disappointed. I enclose here a few sections to whet your appetite.
These studies help to explain why America seems more and more unable to deal with reality. So many people inhabit a closed belief system on whose door they have hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign, that they pick and choose only those facts that will serve as building blocks for walling them off from uncomfortable truths. Any journalist whose reporting threatens that belief system gets sliced and diced by its apologists and polemicists (say, the fabulists at Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the yahoos of talk radio.) Remember when Limbaugh, for one, took journalists on for their reporting about torture at Abu Ghraib? He attempted to dismiss the cruelty inflicted on their captives by American soldiers as a little necessary “sport” for soldiers under stress, saying on air: “This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation … you [ever] heard of need to blow some steam off?” As so often happens, the Limbaugh line became a drumbeat in the nether reaches of the right-wing echo chamber. So, it was not surprising that in a nationwide survey conducted by The Chicago Tribune on First Amendment issues, half of the respondents said there should be some kind of press restraint on reporting about the prison abuse. According to Charles Madigan, the editor of the Tribune’s Perspective section, 50 or 60 percent of the respondents said they “would embrace government controls of some kind on free speech, particularly when it has sexual content or is heard as unpatriotic.”
No wonder many people still believe Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, as his birth certificate shows; or that he is a Muslim, when in fact he is a Christian; or that he is a socialist when day by day he shows an eager solicitude for corporate capitalism. Partisans in particular – and the audiences for Murdoch’s Fox News and talk radio – are particularly susceptible to such scurrilous disinformation. In a Harris survey last spring, 67 percent of Republicans said Obama is a socialist; 57 percent believed him to be a Muslim; 45 percent refused to believe he was born in America; and 24 percent said he “may be the antichrist.”
The bigger the smear, the more it sticks. And there is no shortage of smear artists. Last year, Forbes Magazine, obviously bent on mischief, allowed the right-wing fantasist Dinesh D’Souza to tar Obama with a toxic brew so odious it triggered memories of racist babble – a perverted combination of half-baked psychology, biology and sociology – that marked the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan. Seizing upon the anti-colonial views of Obama’s Kenyan father, who had deserted the family when the boy was two years old and whose absence from his life Obama meditated upon in his best-selling book “Dreams of My Father,” D’Souza wrote that, “Incredibly, the US is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.”
This next little snippet I hadn’t seen referenced before so I found it interesting.
George Orwell had warned six decades ago that the corrosion of language goes hand in hand with the corruption of democracy. If he were around today, he would remind us that “like the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket,” this kind of propaganda engenders a “protective stupidity” almost impossible for facts to penetrate.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I might have commented on the stupidity of voters. In the above we see an apt description of the genesis of that stupidity. To be fair, I was once a victim of this ‘stick rattling’. Much to my embarrassment I voted for Reagan (once) and then Clinton but GWB sealed the deal making me swear off ever voting for a republican again.
This next section gives a bit of insight of how complex all of this has become. A person, a voter, would indeed have to work very hard to unearth all of the corruption that goes on. My notable, and sometimes commented upon, dark outlook isn’t helped a whole lot knowing the following things are all too common.
But shining the spotlight on political corruption is nothing compared to what can happen if you raise questions about corporate power in Washington, as my colleague Marty Koughan and I discovered when we produced a program for David Fanning and “Frontline” on pesticides and food. Marty had learned that industry was attempting behind closed doors to dilute the findings of the American Academy of Sciences study on the effects of pesticide residues on children. Before we finished the documentary, the industry somehow purloined a copy of our draft script – we still aren’t certain how – and mounted a sophisticated and expensive campaign to discredit our program before it aired. Television reviewers and editorial pages of key newspapers were flooded with propaganda. Some public television managers were so unnerved by the blitz of misleading information about a film they had not yet broadcast that they actually protested to PBS with letters that had been prepared by the industry.
Here’s what most perplexed us: the American Cancer Society – an organization that in no way figured in our story – sent to its 3,000 local chapters a “critique” of the unfinished documentary claiming, wrongly, that it exaggerated the dangers of pesticides in food. We were puzzled. Why was the American Cancer Society taking the unusual step of criticizing a documentary that it had not seen, that had not aired and that did not claim what the Society alleged? An enterprising reporter named Sheila Kaplan later looked into those questions for the journal Legal Times. It turns out that the Porter Novelli public relations firm, which had worked for several chemical companies, also did pro bono work for the American Cancer Society. Kaplan found that the firm was able to cash in some of the goodwill from that “charitable” work to persuade the compliant communications staff at the Society to distribute some harsh talking point about the documentary before it aired – talking points that had been supplied by, but not attributed to, Porter Novelli. Legal Times headlined the story “Porter Novelli Plays All Sides.” A familiar Washington game.
I can’t help but leave one more piece for you to ponder. And there are a whole lot of these in this article.
Here’s a sidebar: I remember vividly the day President Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): July 4, 1966. He signed it “with a deep sense of pride,” declaring in almost lyrical language “that the United States is an open society in which the people’s right to know is cherished and guarded.” That’s what he said. The truth is, the president had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony. He hated the very idea of journalists rummaging in government closets, hated them challenging the authorized view of reality, hated them knowing what he didn’t want them to know. He dug in his heels and even threatened to pocket veto the bill after it reached the White House. Only the courage and political skill of a Congressman named John Moss got the bill passed at all and that was after a 12-year battle against his Congressional elders, who blinked every time the sun shined on the dark corners of power. They managed to cripple the bill Moss had drafted and, even then, only some last-minute calls to LBJ from a handful of influential newspaper editors overcame the president’s reluctance. He signed “the f—— thing,” as he called it and then, lo and behold, went out to claim credit for it.
If a person were to choose an article to gain some insight into what goes on in the American political psyche this would be a good place to start. Click the link and read the last paragraph. It’ll be worth a few moments of your time.