I don’t pretend to know the answer to what is at the very bottom of the the birther problem, but it appears that at some level it depends on a fundamental distrust of institutions, whether that is government or the media. If all people had a basic trust in the integrity of National Public Radio, FactCheck.org, CNN or the New York Times, there would no birthers.
Before I started this blog, I had a conversation with someone about Obama, and that person was greatly influenced by the book, The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media’s Favorite Candidate by David Freddoso. The implication of that title is that Obama’s popularity was created by the media, and therefore the “real” Barack Obama is can only be know elsewhere (in this case by his associations as disclosed in the book). By the same token, books about Sarah Palin, such as The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star by Matthew Continetti suggest that Palin’s problems are created by a media who are “elite” — meaning “not like us” and not by Palin herself.
Any group who wants to have their own version of reality prevail is going to have a problem with a skeptical, fact-checking media, and there have been enough scandals over the years, when concentrated into one big pile, to bias the public against the media. “You think the media can be trusted to authenticate a birth certificate? Remember Dan Rather!” The idea that media embarrassments ought to make them strive to do better is of no consequence.
The birthers I have known personally reject any claim of authority or integrity in the media and they have trouble judging the quality of sources. Put another way, if all media are untrustworthy then CNN and WorldNetDaily are equally reliable. I can point out where WorldNetDaily lied, and the reply is “they all lie.”
The inability to judge the relative value of non-absolutes could be a neurophysiological characteristic or it might be some failure in maturation or it might be a manifestation of the stress due to the complexity of society. I don’t know why it’s there, but it certainly is.
This article is from the Understanding the Birthers series.