Leftist commentary from a mouthy bitch

TeaPartiers, Birthers and Other Non-News

Tea Partier at an Anti-Obamacare rally

Dear All the Media in the Universe,

Please quit giving the TeaPartiers (see, I can be nice), Birthers and other non-news groups airtime.


I have no trouble debating with people who are open to discussion.  I have several friends who are, indeed, pretty far right, not to mention family members, and we can have conversations about politics wherein we listen to each other, perhaps concede that each side has reasons for believing as they do, even if we don’t agree.

We also, however, respect facts.  Like the fact that President Obama HAS released his birth certificate and WAS in fact born in Hawaii.

Brendan Nyhan from the University of Michigan, and Jason Reifler from Georgia State University have done a study about people’s perceptions of facts, and how being confronted with facts that challenge their beliefs effect those beliefs.  Basically, if you feed someone a news story that reinforces their beliefs, it influences them more toward those beliefs, as you might suspect.  However, when then given a correction that refutes that news story, a fairly small number of those people will take that correction to heart, whether conservative or liberal.

What they also discovered, was that more conservatives resisted the correction. For a substantial number of conservatives* being confronted with the contradictory truth actually strengthened their resolve in their beliefs.   They call this the “backfire effect.”

The backfire effect is why the Birthers won’t shut up about Obama’s birth certificate in spite of the fact that yes, his actual birth certificate has been released. It’s also why that nonsense about “Anchor” and “Terror” babies is still making the rounds.

Now, granted, I understand where a lot of the Anchor Baby confusion is coming from, because nearly EVERY crime show, Law & Order being a major offender, uses the “We can’t deport you, your child was born here!  So, it’s safe to testify!” line nearly every episode.  So, after years of being inundated with this fictional nonsense, I understand where the belief comes from.

What I don’t understand is why, when confronted with actual immigration law, they don’t weigh “actual legal document” versus “fictionalized account of law by someone who cares more for drama than accuracy.”  Until now.  Nyhan and Reifler’s study illustrates it.

What this means, practically, though, is that for a lot of these folks, telling them the truth is just going reinforce their convictions and sense of persecution.  So, there’s little, if any, point in trying to engage them.

The other problem is that the news media insists on “presenting both sides of the story” even when the other side has nothing of substance to back them up.  The Birthers don’t have a case.  They have some erroneous beliefs based in racism, that have been handily refuted, and a stubborn belief in conspiracy.  The folks claiming that Obama’s a communist, secret Muslim, or moving our country towards socialism, likewise have nothing concrete backing them up.

So why does the media persist in treating them as if they’re actually bringing something to the conversation?

*They admit that while current research does seem to indicate that conservatives are more dogmatic, and prone to the backfire effect, that more studies with liberals are needed to prove or disprove this.

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This entry was posted on September 1, 2010 by in Featured Articles, Media and tagged , , .

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