Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fox News Epitomizes Disinformation, and It's Quantifiable!

Do you remember the study back during the 2004 presidential election, called "The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters," that discovered that those favoring Bush or Kerry had broadly different views of reality, especially concerning the rationale behind the Iraq War? I do, and every time I see another example of blatant factual distortion on one of Fox News' shows -- on both the news and opinion features -- I try to imagine Fox fans sorting the different items into the cubby holes of their minds and coming up with a reality that works for them, enough for them to be satisfied and coming back for more.

Key quote from the old study:
It is normal during elections for supporters of presidential candidates to have fundamental disagreements about values (such as the proper role of the government) or strategies (such as how best to defend US interests). As we have seen, the current election is unique in that Bush supporters and Kerry supporters have profoundly different perceptions of reality.
I got this reality thing wired.
So why is this the case? And, more specifically, why are Bush supporters holding so clinging [sic] so tightly to beliefs that have been so visibly refuted? As discussed, one key possible explanation for why Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had WMD or a major WMD program, and supported al Qaeda is that they continue to hear the Bush administration confirming these beliefs.
How the hell did he do that?
Another possible explanation is that Bush supporters cling to these beliefs because they are necessary for their support for the decision to go to war with Iraq. Asked whether the US should have gone to war with Iraq if US intelligence had concluded that Iraq was not making WMD or providing support to al Qaeda, 58% of Bush supporters said the US should not have, and 61% assume that in this case the president would not have. To support the president and to accept that he took the US to war based on mistaken assumptions is difficult to bear, especially in light of the continuing costs in terms of lives and money. Apparently, to avoid this cognitive dissonance, Bush supporters suppress awareness of unsettling information.
It's not much of a stretch to apply this state of affairs to today's conservative base of the Republican Party, or to the vast majority of Republicans in general. It explains why there was such fervent support during the brinkmanship of the debt-ceiling debate. Surely the congressional leaders assumed that the base would either turn on them if they didn't go to the edge of disaster to get their way on the issue of the debt -- a fake issue that allows Republicans to attack the funding of social programs that would require taxing the rich to sustain them -- or, politically, they could count on the base's support in order to endanger the country just to stomp Barack Obama into the ground.

It's important to keep in mind that reasonable observers, whether you approve of Obama's performance or not -- I consider it mixed, though I continue to support most of his efforts -- would attest to his common decency and, one would hope, would recognize that he's clearly a centrist, not a wild-eyed, Kenyan Socialist Muslim. This outlook is only held by those who have been bamboozled into holding these beliefs, and I would make book on the likelihood that the bamboozlers like Karl Rove, Ari Fleicsher, Dick Armey, and the Koch brothers with their super PACs, as well as the Republican congressional leadership and presidential candidates, don't believe for a minute in the pablum they're pedaling to the base. The conservative base is dependent on this diet of bamboozlement because it needs it to support their own narrative, the one that explains why they, as Southern White Christians or disenfranchised, Midwestern blue-collar workers don't have much of a future, and how it's somebody else's fault. A black man who they find above them in rank fills the bill to a tee.

It is the nature of true believers that reality takes a back seat to their desired outcomes. If they want Armageddon for Obama, it's okay to risk Armageddon for America. This is similar to Timothy McVeigh's acceptance of "collateral damage" when expressing little to no regret that children in a daycare center died in his explosion in Oklahoma City. This comparison may sound extreme, but it's apt. Why else would the Republicans risk such dire consequences to harm the Obama administration?

The reasoning may be found in this conclusion to the study:
Bush appears to assume that his support is fragile. He refuses to admit to making any mistakes. He admits that he was surprised that WMD were not found, but does not say that the most reasonable conclusion is that they were never there and continues to talk about “disarming” Iraq. He asserts that he never said that Iraq was directly involved in 9/11, but maintains that there were contacts with al Qaeda in a way that implies that they were significant. Most telling, his supporters as well as his opponents overwhelmingly say that they hear him still saying that Iraq had WMD and supported al Qaeda. To remain loyal and bonded to him means to enter into this false reality.
Bush may be right. Admitting his mistakes may shatter his idealized image in a way that some supporters may not forgive. But there also risks in succeeding in getting elected based on false beliefs. The number of people in the public who see through the illusion will likely continue to grow, eating away at the implied mandate of an election. Further, the cohesion of society can be damaged by a persisting and fundamental division in the perception of what is real, undermining pathways to consensus and mutual sacrifice, and making the country increasingly difficult to govern.  [boldface mine.]
We all remember the days after the 2004 election when Bush claimed a mandate -- which really didn't exist -- and went after Social Security only to crash and burn. The Iraq War was an utter disaster, and as the casualties mounted his popularity waned. Hurricane Katrina was the nail in the coffin. His presidency was a house of cards that couldn't withstand the withering of his true-believer core.

In fact, the Bush presidency was so bad a black man was elected president! I've always been struck by this fact. The presence of a black at the helm of the ship of state was so traumatic to the white Christian Southern base of the Republican Party that this malleable group was ripe for manipulation by the dark political machinations of the Republican leadership epitomized by Mitch McConnell, who famously said, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Help the country get out of the worst recession in 80 years?? Meh.

Now comes the kicker. There's a new study out that lets the cat out of the bag about Fox News viewers:
Fox News viewers are less informed than people who don't watch any news, according to a new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
The poll surveyed New Jersey residents about the uprisings in Egypt and the Middle East, and where they get their news sources. The study, which controlled for demographic factors like education and partisanship, found that "people who watch Fox News are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government" and "6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government" compared to those who watch no news.
 When I tried to come to terms with why Bush's true believers were impossible to bring back into the reality-based fold, or why the Tea Party people could actually believe the tripe about death panels, or why people demanded to see Obama's birth certificate, or why any of the memes and disinformation and zombie lies lived on -- and still do -- I was missing the point. Fox News doesn't simply feed the beast, it starves it. Watching Fox News doesn't simply create a different reality, it actually surgically removes one from reality.

And the result is quantifiable, and bad for the country, I don't have to tell you.

Jeez, we've got work to do.

Roger Ailes: Fox News makes you dumber? Bonus!

Afterthought: Just a reminder how disconnected from reality the Bush administration was and how hubris can destroy otherwise functioning minds, and, further, how this arrogance can be used toward destructive ends. Remember the famous statement, made by an anonymous aide but later attributed to Karl Rove, that was quoted in a New York Times Magazine article by Ron Suskind on October 17, 2004:
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
 How'd that work out, Karl?

Ask me if I give a crap.

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