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Is Birtherism really a bunch of conspiracy theories?

A commenter asked that question.

I asked the question too from the very beginning of this blog, since it is called "Obama Conspiracy Theories." When I first asked I asked it more literally, focusing more on the definition of the word "conspiracy" than the general concept of conspiracy thinking. As the birther stories evolved, they invoked conspiracies to explain their lack of success, and so my original naming concerns were taken care of.

Later I came to understand birtherism as the kind of thinking that characterizes conspiracy theorists. Experts on conspiracy theory seem to agree. An important early article on birtherism is "Why the stories about Obama’s birth certificate will never die" where Alex Koppelman wrote at Salon.com:

Barack Obama was, without question, born in the U.S., and he is eligible to be president, but experts on conspiracy theories say that won’t ever matter to those who believe otherwise.

Last year, I took some time to delve into the literature about conspiracy theories. What I found was that certain cognitive errors described in the literature seemed to fit the birthers. If conspiracy thinking does result from peculiar "brain wiring" then one would expect that those who believe in one conspiracy believe in others. Anecdotes support that. Jerome Corsi and Phil Berg, for example, are both 9/11 Truthers. Orly Taitz sees a conspiracy under every rock. I see a lot of birthers who also believe in vast international conspiracies, black helicopters, chemtrails,  and all sorts of such things.

 

Arthur Goldwag doesn’t mention "birthers" in his 2009 book Cults, Conspiracies and Secret Societies but he later wrote that he didn’t include them because he thought birtherism would rapidly fade away after the election. Goldwag associates birtherism with the paranoid style that Richard Hofstadter coined to describe conspiracy theorists (they act paranoid, but aren’t clinically so). 

Michael Shermer, author of The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies — How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths once tweeted: “Obama ‘birthers’ even loonier than 9/11 ‘truthers’."  Shermer wrote in The Scientific American:

WAS PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA BORN IN HAWAII? I find the question so absurd, not to mention possibly racist in its motivation, that when I am confronted with “birthers” who believe otherwise, I find it difficult to even focus on their arguments about the difference between a birth certificate and a certificate of live birth. The reason is because once I formed an opinion on the subject, it became a belief, subject to a host of cognitive biases to ensure its verisimilitude. Am I being irrational? Possibly. In fact, this is how most belief systems work for most of us most of the time.

We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, emotional and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture and society at large. After forming our beliefs, we then defend, justify and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments and rational explanations. Beliefs come first; explanations for beliefs follow.

There are other approaches to explaining birtherism besides the classic conspiracy theory cognitive errors described by Michael Shermer. One alternate explanation is referenced in the Scientific American article "What’s Behind Birthers’ Obama Belief" in which they say:

Research done by Harvard’s Mahzarin Banaji and San Diego State’s Thierry Devos into what’s called "implicit social cognition" reveals that white Americans inherently regard white Europeans as somehow more "American" than Asian- or African-Americans, which may help explain why so many people find it easy to believe that President Obama is not really a citizen.

This explains why white Americans believe Tony Blair is "more American" than Barack Obama.

I have seen lots of attempts to explain birtherism in the mainstream literature. The New York Times did a major article surveying experts on that question last year in their article “The Psychology of the ‘Birther’ Myth.” It is explained as racist, xenophobic, religious, right-wing nut job, conspiracy theorist and calculated political smear.  I might summarize this in the following chart:

BirtherCharts

I think that the sources of bias are numerous but the mechanisms of belief, the thinking errors and the reinforcement of those errors—the hardware of birtherism is the same as with all conspiracy theories.

However,  no matter what the explanation, what you never see is anyone saying that birthers have a valid concern—except other birthers.

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91 Responses to Is Birtherism really a bunch of conspiracy theories?

  1. avatar
    Steve March 26, 2012 at 7:12 pm #

    “However, no matter what the explanation, what you never see is anyone saying that birthers have a valid concern—except other birthers.”

    I’m not sure I agree. Anyone who wants a birther’s vote or money would also say they have a valid concern. At least that’s what they’d tell birthers.

  2. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    When I was working, I didn’t have all the answers. I was pretty sharp but for somethings I had people sharper than I working for me. What I was good at was getting a few folks in a room with a white board and arriving at a consensus on the solution to whatever we were trying to accomplish.

    That chart at the bottom of the article is like one of those things I’d use to start the discussion. It’s my opinion that a better diagram could be made that actually described birtherism pretty well.

  3. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 26, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    Ah yes, there are always the liars.

    Steve: I’m not sure I agree. Anyone who wants a birther’s vote or money would also say they have a valid concern. At least that’s what they’d tell birthers.

  4. avatar
    Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter March 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    I agree that this needs a better chart. Birtherism has given a bad name to skepticism, which I think is a psychologically healthy response to an environment where we are subjected to constant and perpetual lies, manipulations, and half truths.

    http://www.whale.to/b/bernays.pdf

    There seems to be a self-reinforcing element to everybody’s beliefs, and many of the elements listed above are bad only if they go too far. But “too far” is usually a subjective call.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  5. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    Birthers may believe that Obama’s step grandmother in Africa said she was present when Obama was born, but birthers existed before that interview. Birthers may believe that there was something fishy about Obama’s 2008 Certification of Live Birth, but there were birthers before that. Birthers may believe in one or more of the fake Kenyan birth certificates with Obama’s name on them, but there birthers came before that. Birthers may believe that there is something fishy about Obama not releasing records demanded of him and they may believe that he went around sealing records, but there were birthers before that.

    Birtherism began ex nihilo, from nothing. It was a belief looking for evidence, not evidence leading to a belief. Birtherism has been since its start as a rumor on the Internet, March 1, 2008, a rumor looking for a reason to exist.

  6. avatar
    JPotter March 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    As much as I love infographics and design critique*, I appreciate the editorial content in this article much more. Perhaps, as mentioned before, a gateway to a post mortem?

    A study of fallout would be interesting. Lingering misconception in the puiblic consciousness. Misinformation about legal theories, history, development of travel and technology, documents and forgery, etc…lots of manure has been dprinkled afield!

    And personal consequences. Alienations, careers altered/destroyed, relationships affected.

    Public legacies …. laws updated, precedents created ( 😉 )

    Perhaps a new project …. Stories of the Afterbirth.

    __________________________

    * I would suggest labeled vapors rising from 2 swamps to form a collective stench. Add swamps as necessary. Add vectors from the stench cloud, depicting various bias propelled tendencies and impulses … proselytizing, rationalizing, fabricating … it already sounds like a feedback loop …. !

  7. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 26, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    The diagram was an afterthought, and maybe will get its own article. In the latest draft, the list has three main headings: Triggers, Selectors and Amplifiers.

    For the individual, somebody puts the birther idea in their head, either a friend suggests it, or there is misinformation, or a fallacious argument presented. Then there has to be something in the individual so that the trigger resonates and this would be something like racial bias or political orientation. Finally there are things that firm up the belief, like the echo chamber and confirmation bias.

    Of course what I’d end up with is a general model for belief systems. (note to self: check up on that).

    Conspiracy theories classically begin with a lone researcher connecting events into a conspiracy picture. In the case of the birthers, however, it was most likely an intentional lie from the beginning because it started with no dots connected.

    Post mortem is fine, but she ain’t dead yet.

    JPotter: As much as I love infographics and design critique*, I appreciate the editorial content in this article much more. Perhaps, as mentioned before, a gateway to a post mortem?

  8. avatar
    donna March 26, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    doc: remember when you and i discussed “youtubes are infallible”? you correctly attributed the quote to birther berman, i to birther gohmert

    this was gohmert today

    Gohmert: Liberals should fear ‘redneck president’ if court upholds mandate

    Liberals should be concerned about what a future “redneck president” could impose on them if the Supreme Court upholds the healthcare reform law’s mandate that everyone have insurance, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said Monday.

    “Let’s say you want to follow this administration’s idea of greatest good for the greatest number of people,” Gohmert said. “It ought to scare liberals to come run and join conservatives, because what it means is when this president’s out of the White House and you get a conservative in there, if this president has the authority under ObamaCare … to trample on religious rights, then some redneck president’s got the right to say, ‘you know what, there’s some practices that go on in your house that cost people too much money and healthcare, so we’re going to have the right to rule over those as well.’ “

  9. avatar
    J. Potter March 26, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: Post mortem is fine, but she ain’t dead yet.

    Yes, death will probably only be a matter of opinion. I wouldn’t say it’s dead yet. It isn’t absolutely pointless yet … it never will be. Die-hards will go to their graves rehashing the same old memes.

    It is however, already “effectively” pointless. By bungling this cycle’s ballot challenges, Birtherism jumped the shark.

    I commented on the diagram, because it struck me that everyone was commenting on it, not the article! Then I proceeded to do the same. The diagram could grow into a topical roadmap to OCT itself 😀

    I hadn’t seen Shermer’s Scientific American article. Thanks for that!

  10. avatar
    John Wayne March 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    The ONUS is on Obama to prove that he is ELIGIBLE to participate in the election.
    The onus is NOT on us to prove otherwise.
    He attended Occidental using a Fulbright scholarship.
    You do the math. (Note – a Fulbright scholarship is ONLY for foreign studensts)
    I guess that explains WHY he has used the DOJ to keep his educational records SEALED.

    If this is NOT true, then show us the beef obama…

  11. avatar
    donna March 26, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

    John Wayne: in THIS COUNTRY, the plaintiff has the burden of proof

    a fulbright is ONLY AWARDED to graduate students – it’s on their website

    records are sealed due to PRIVACY LAWS – can i get YOUR school records?

  12. avatar
    Scientist March 26, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

    John Wayne: The ONUS is on Obama to prove that he is ELIGIBLE to participate in the election.

    Like the proof offered by: Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, Bush, Kerry, Gore, McCain, Clinton, Reagan, JFK, FDR, Lincoln, Polk, Garfield, Cleveland, etc.? Can you point me to all the proof provided by former Presidents and candidates? It won;t take long, because they didn’t provide any all,

  13. avatar
    donna March 26, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    John Wayne: if you remember the ga ballot challenge, obama’s attorney didn’t even show up and WON – the plaintiffs’ LOST to an EMPTY CHAIR

  14. avatar
    Thomas Brown March 26, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    John Wayne:
    The ONUS is on Obama to prove that he is ELIGIBLE to participate in the election.
    The onus is NOT on us to prove otherwise.
    He attended Occidental using a Fulbright scholarship.
    You do the math. (Note – a Fulbright scholarship is ONLY for foreign studensts)
    I guess that explains WHY he has used the DOJ to keep his educational records SEALED.

    If this is NOT true, then show us the beef obama…

    Reading you, the Duke would puke.

  15. avatar
    Paper March 26, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    Hey NOT John Wayne,

    in case you want to update your make-believe and lies:

    http://www.factcheck.org/2009/05/was-obama-born-in-the-usa/

    Briefly, the Fulbright scholarship story is a lie.

  16. avatar
    Majority Will March 26, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    John Wayne: debunked birther b.s.

    Your pants are on fire.

  17. avatar
    Bob March 26, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

    If a state authenticated COLB isn’t proof enough- isn’t good enough- for Birthers then nothing is. Obama only has one birth certificate and the Birthers don’t accept it. The only way forward is the Birthers is to prove that Obama was born outside of the US. The ball is in their court now.

    The Birthers have presented their case. All their arguments were heard in Georgia, in Indiana, and in the Cold Case Posse report. The Birthers have presented no evidence that Obama was born outside of the US.

  18. avatar
    Dave March 26, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

    There is a characteristic of birthers that I’ve always regarded as atypical of conspiracy theorists, and that is in the way they respond to questions — they either ignore them, or attack the questioner, but almost never answer them.

  19. avatar
    traderjack March 26, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    Dave: There is a characteristic of birthers that I’ve always regarded as atypical of conspiracy theorists, and that is in the way they respond to questions — they either ignore them, or attack the questioner, but almost never answer them.

    And I think that is a characteristic of the Obama Supporters as they refuse to answer anything, it sareems to me.

    Question , Why is the R in Barack pixilated?

  20. avatar
    richCares March 26, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    “Question , Why is the R in Barack pixilated?”
    wow, the pixelate R story from a guy that doesn’t know what a pixel is, be careful there is room for you at the FEMA camp

  21. avatar
    gorefan March 26, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    traderjack: And I think that is a characteristic of the Obama Supporters as they refuse to answer anything, it sareems to me.

    Question , Why is the R in Barack pixilated?

    NBC answered questions like that at his website:

    https://nativeborncitizen.wordpress.com/

  22. avatar
    Dr Kenneth Noisewater March 26, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    John Wayne:
    The ONUS is on Obama to prove that he is ELIGIBLE to participate in the election.
    The onus is NOT on us to prove otherwise.
    He attended Occidental using a Fulbright scholarship.
    You do the math. (Note – a Fulbright scholarship is ONLY for foreign studensts)
    I guess that explains WHY he has used the DOJ to keep his educational records SEALED.

    If this is NOT true, then show us the beef obama…

    As has been mentioned to you the Fulbright scholarships are only given to Graduate Students. Obama attending occidental as an undergraduate student. Also Obama attended most of grade school as well as High school in the US he would not have been considered a foreign student.

  23. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 26, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    Given literally hundreds of articles answering birther stuff on this site, it hardly sounds credible to say that “they refuse to answer anything.” That said, there’s not an article on the site about the “R” that I recall, although you could figure it out for yourself with the background information here.

    First, a little background on the PDF optimization concepts. What the optimization software does is to separate the foreground from the background. It then tries to identify regions of the document and stores them in different internal formats to minimize storage and maximize clarity These are the layers. Each layer is then stored at an appropriate resolution. When I scanned my own birth certificate I saw stuff like this. When the Cold Case Posse scanned their made-up certificate they got 40-something of these layers.

    John Woodman’s book: Is Barack Obama’s Birth Certificate a Fraud? covers the topic of the layering and why one thing is in one layer and another thing is another at some length. Anybody who wants to play with the long form needs to get that book. (amazon.com)

    The following is from me, and not Woodman.

    There’s no indication that any Adobe software was involved in creating the White House PDF file, but the Adobe Acrobat manual section on Adaptive Optimization explains the concepts (just so you don’t think I’m blowing smoke). From the manual:

    Adaptive
    Divides each page into black-and-white, grayscale, and color regions and chooses a representation that preserves appearance while highly compressing each type of content. The recommended scanning resolutions are 300 dots per inch (dpi) for grayscale and RGB input, or 600 dpi for black-and-white input.

    The “R” in “BARACK” is in a different layer, and was stored differently. In fact the “R” is on the color background layer and the rest of the name is on the black and white layer.

    Neal Krawetz a well-known forensic image analyst (he’s the guy who fishes details out of terrorist videos) looked at the long form PDF in his article “The Afterbirth.” You’ll definitely want to read his page and see the contrast between a real expert and what you see at WorldNetDaily. Krawetz conveniently shows a copy of each of the PDF layers on his site.

    When you zoom in with Adobe Acrobat far enough to see the pixelation, you are really making it bigger than the underlying image resolution supports. The Acrobat Software is just trying to make it look right at a size bigger than it is; the software makes stuff up. The black and white layer is kept black and white, but just bigger. The colored layer is enlarged by interpolating between colors in a best guess of what the original looked like. Those interpolated blocks are what you call pixelation. When you zoom into a PDF using Adobe software, that’s just how it works.

    The proof is that the entire background is also pixelated just like the “R” in BARACK because they are all on the same layer. If you look at the “David A. Sinclair” signature, you will see it “pixelated” too because it is also part of the background layer whereas the “Signature of attendant” title above it is from the B&W layer and so is not pixelated. When I scanned my own certificate with Adobe Acrobat, part of a signature was in one layer and the other in a different layer. That’s just the way it is.

    Anyhow, read Krawetz’s article and get Woodman’s book if you really care about getting it right. But please don’t say this stuff is unanswered, because the answers have been out there for over 6 months.

    traderjack: And I think that is a characteristic of the Obama Supporters as they refuse to answer anything, it sareems to me.

    Question , Why is the R in Barack pixilated?

  24. avatar
    Majority Will March 26, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

    traderjack: a characteristic of the Obama Supporters

    And you conveniently ignore or perhaps cannot grasp that there are conservative posters here who are not supporters of the President and who are also thoroughly disgusted by birthers.

    It seems some birthers assume quite a lot.

  25. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 26, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    Two corrections:

    1) The Onus is for Obama to meet all the state statutory requirements for being on the ballot. “Proof” for a birther is a meaningless concept.

    2) The Fulbright scholarships are not given to undergraduates such as was Obama at Occidental college. That particular story was actually an April Fools joke.

    John Wayne: The ONUS is on Obama to prove that he is ELIGIBLE to participate in the election.
    The onus is NOT on us to prove otherwise.
    He attended Occidental using a Fulbright scholarship.

  26. avatar
    jayhg March 26, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

    John Wayne:
    The ONUS is on Obama to prove that he is ELIGIBLE to participate in the election.
    The onus is NOT on us to prove otherwise.
    He attended Occidental using a Fulbright scholarship.
    You do the math. (Note – a Fulbright scholarship is ONLY for foreign studensts)
    I guess that explains WHY he has used the DOJ to keep his educational records SEALED.

    If this is NOT true, then show us the beef obama…

    I think you’re an illegal in this country. Prove to me that you are not and also, ignore that I have no right to go around making accusations of anyone – no one died and left me in charge around here – nevertheless, I’m accusing you and YOU HAVE TO PROVE THAT YOU ARE LEGAL………

    See how crazy that is and why our laws are such as they are? If anyone could just accuse anyone else of, say, stealing, and the accused person had to then prove that they are NOT a thief, this country would fall into utter choas. I know a couple people I don’t like and if the laws of this country were such that I could have them running all over the place disproving whatever I feel like accusing them of, that would be a whole lot of fun for me. The problem with that is……THEY COULD DO THE SAME THING TO ME! So I have to just ignore them and go on with my life.

    I swear you birthers are too dumb to be believed!!

  27. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 26, 2012 at 11:48 pm #

    More accurately, an April Fools joke. Any purported news story dated April 1 really should be treated skeptically.

    Paper: Briefly, the Fulbright scholarship story is a lie.

  28. avatar
    Rickey March 26, 2012 at 11:54 pm #

    John Wayne:

    He attended Occidental using a Fulbright scholarship.
    You do the math. (Note – a Fulbright scholarship is ONLY for foreign studensts)

    If you have any hope of being taken seriously, you have to at least get your facts straight.
    You are wrong on both counts.

    The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program sends approximately 1,100 American scholars and professionals per year to approximately 125 countries, where they lecture and/or conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.

    The Fulbright Foreign Student Program enables graduate students, young professionals and artists from abroad to research and study in the United States for one year or longer. Approximately 1,700 new awards are awarded to foreign graduate students for support at U.S. universities, and some 1,350 renewal awards are also made annually.

    So you do not have to be a foreign student to get a Fulbright scholarship, but if you are a foreign student you have to be a graduate student. Barack Obama was neither a foreign student nor a graduate student when he attended Occidental.

    http://www.cies.org/about_fulb.htm

  29. avatar
    John Reilly March 26, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

    Mr. Fake John Wayne:

    As a registered Republican and member of our county committee, I am weighing in to back President Obama’s supporters here. And I’m not the only Republican who reads this blog.

    The President was born in Hawaii. The State of Hawaii says so. He is a natural born citizen. After 4 years of this nonsense, people like you continue to embarass those of us who think someone else ought to be elected President.

  30. avatar
    G March 27, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    Well, it sure “sareems” that you are simply WRONG about a number of things…

    Claiming that we refuse to answer anything is an outrageous lie. But then again, lies are a Birther’s specialty…

    traderjack: And I think that is a characteristic of the Obama Supporters as they refuse to answer anything, it sareems to me.

  31. avatar
    John Reilly March 27, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    Mr. Traderjack:

    The State of Hawaii says the President was born there. That makes him a natural born citizen. What additional question did you have? Under the Constitution, there are none.

  32. avatar
    J. Potter March 27, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    traderjack: Question , Why is the R in Barack pixilated?

    Yep, it’s a Jack Osborne infestation. He’s trying harder here than elsewhere to come off seriously and intelligently. Good for you, Jack. Hopefully, after 3 years of not learning, you’re turning a corner.

  33. avatar
    Thrifty March 27, 2012 at 1:15 am #

    How the Hell is that relevant? I have a counter question. All the light bulbs in my house radiate electromagnetic energy. Why is my house haunted?

    traderjack: Question , Why is the R in Barack pixilated?

  34. avatar
    richCares March 27, 2012 at 1:41 am #

    “How the Hell is that relevant?”
    silly isn’t it, while birthers are scanning and pixalating Obama’s lawyer hands his original copy over of either COLB or LFBC and it’s over. (while birthers keep scanning and pixalating – that is silly isn’t it?)

  35. avatar
    James M March 27, 2012 at 1:58 am #

    John Wayne:

    The ONUS is on Obama to prove that he is ELIGIBLE to participate in the election.

    A state certification exists and has been accepted. Even testimony from an eyewitness of the birth would not trump that. There is no higher threshold of proof that could possibly have been met.

  36. avatar
    Northland10 March 27, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    Dave: There is a characteristic of birthers that I’ve always regarded as atypical of conspiracy theorists, and that is in the way they respond to questions — they either ignore them, or attack the questioner, but almost never answer them.

    When you do not actually have an answer for the question, it seriously limits your options. Between a bias and getting their “right answers” only from birther sites, it is difficult to answer “wrong questions.”

    Asking and answering questions suggests a willingness to learn, they already have the answers they want.

  37. avatar
    Pastor Charmley March 27, 2012 at 7:13 am #

    One issue I have observed is that as political parties all crowd to occupy the centre ground the differences that once distinguished them begin to disappear (for example, in the United Kingdom the Labour Party is no longer socialist in any meaningful sense at all, though it began as ideologically socialist and remained so until the 1990s). This leads to two issues: first of all, parties become increasingly unwilling to announce actual policy while in opposition for fear that the other party will immediately adopt the policy itself, since it is unlikely to have any ideological reason not to; secondly, and as a result of this, politics becomes more and more a matter of personalities rather than policies. Thus the personal attack becomes the weapon of choice in political campaigning (for example, the fact that a candidate was educated in an exclusive school may be brought up as if that automatically means he will be a bad representative).

    Added to this is one of the bad effects of postmodernism. By insisting that all sincerely-held views are equally valid, the popular form of postmodernism (that is, the form we see day-to-day in the public square as opposed to actual philosophy taught by philosophers) leaves only one form of attack open – the moral attack. Paradoxically a form of thinking intended to increase respect for those who are different has led to increasing disrespect, most significantly upon those who do not realise that they are adopting a form of popular postmodernism. In days gone by the complaint was that the ‘other man’ was wrong, now there are those to whom it is axiomatic that he is evil. In the UK Tony Blair brought this sort of thinking in; in the US it has given birth firstly to the 9/11 ‘Truthers’ and second to the Obama ‘Birthers’.

    It used to be that the ‘other side’ were wrong because of their policies, however well-meaning they might be. Now there are a sizable minority of people who think that the other side must be viewed first of all as evil, and only secondarily as wrong. This worries me tremendously.

  38. avatar
    Pastor Charmley March 27, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    All of the above means that there are people who are actively looking for evidence that ‘the other guy’ is evil. In the case of Bush there was first of all the very close election, allowing those who opposed him to say that he ‘stole the election’. This then increased their bias towards believing that he might try to start a war for political purposes, since a victorious war often, but not always (Winston Churchill lost the election held just after World War 2) gives the ‘war leader’ an advantage at the polls.

    In the case of Obama, the idea that he was not born in the US (the original Birther myth) was eagerly latched onto as evidence that he was evil.

    Another factor in the embrace of myths like the 9/11 myth that Bush somehow engineered it and the Obama Birther myth is that it gives those who do not like the president the illusion of a means of getting rid of him before his term is up; never mind that a deposed president would not mean a new election at which their preferred party would be victorious, but would mean the VP sitting in the White House for the rest of the term (one suspects that at least some of the popular-level Birthers are as hazy on what happens when a president is removed as their Truther counterparts). It gives the illusion that the Birthers can get the ‘right’ result by a means that is more sure and certain than having to submit to the vagaries of the general electorate every four years.

    That is also deeply worrying. Occasionally I have got the feeling that the reason some of the Birthers and Truthers talk about a dictatorship is that they would rather like one with their side in charge; the real complaint is not that there is a dictatorship (an absurd allegation as things stand), but that it is the wrong dictatorship.

  39. avatar
    The Magic M March 27, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    Scientist: Can you point me to all the proof provided by former Presidents and candidates? It won;t take long, because they didn’t provide any all,

    Birthers usually reply to this with a have-the-cake-and-eat-it answer that goes like this:
    “Congress vetted the other Presidents, but they did not vet Obama” (of course not having proof either of these assertions is true).

    They somehow assume/believe/make up that previous Congresses are to be believed as “having vetted the (previous) President(s)” but today’s Congress is to be believed as being composed of 535 traitors and Marxist co-conspirators.
    The funny part is that I think there would be a large number of people in Congress right now who also sat in Congress during the GWB, the Clinton, and possibly even the Bush Sr. and Reagan era.

    Then again, birther arguments have never made even remote sense.

  40. avatar
    The Magic M March 27, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    “era”, not “area”. I’m tired.

  41. avatar
    bovril March 27, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    Well, in effect, via the count and certification of the Electoral College votes, Congress IS vetting a President, they even have a mechanism where if only 0.37% of the members aren’t happy they can halt the entire process.

    So technically yep, the Presidents have all been “vetted”

  42. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 27, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    I’d like to comment on what Shermer said:

    when I am confronted with “birthers” who believe otherwise, I find it difficult to even focus on their arguments about the difference between a birth certificate and a certificate of live birth. The reason is because once I formed an opinion on the subject, it became a belief, subject to a host of cognitive biases to ensure its verisimilitude.

    The serious birther-debunkers cannot operate while letting bias rule. In order to write this blog I have to dig into and understand birther claims, summarize them sensibly (insofar as that’s possible) and then detail the reasons why the argument is invalid. The rules of evidence and logical argument help us to go beyond our natural tendencies towards bias.

    That’s not how birthers work. They raise doubts, but the never debunk the anti-birthers. There have been occasions when I’ve made a mistake and a birther caught it, but when that happens, I correct my mistakes. Birthers are still repeating an April Fools joke from 2009 as if it were a true story.

  43. avatar
    John Woodman March 27, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    However, no matter what the explanation, what you never see is anyone saying that birthers have a valid concern—except other birthers.

    I also somewhat disagree with this statement.

    Of course, it kind of depends on what you mean by a birther. I often include people who are either curious or superficially convinced by what appears, at first glance, to be compelling evidence.

    I also maintain that the body of evidence and understanding required to truly identify birtherism as false is both large and complex — on both the born in Africa/ forgery side of the claims, and the natural born citizen side of the claims.

    Of course, one has to have a predisposition to doubt or be skeptical of official testimonies and records in order to reach the forgery claims. But I maintain that given the past history of government officials lying to the public, including Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Tony Weiner, William Jefferson, Rod Blagojevich, etc., is quite sufficient to warrant skepticism.

    So we have a situation in which a body of apparently convincing evidence is submitted to the public with apparent absolute conviction, by persons often regarded as trustworthy authorities.

    These authorities include “journalists” such as those at WorldNetDaily (I can’t use that word in regard to them without putting it in quotes), whose web site includes a clear proclamation that they are standing up for truth and integrity. It includes pastors. It includes someone who had a brother who was a state representative. It includes lawyers who dress in tuxedos. Okay, maybe the lawyer part isn’t trustworthy, but the tuxedo is. It includes people who are experts in this magical thing called technology, who have supposedly authored about a hundred books on some real complicated computer thingy that no one understands except the people who are really, really smart. And it even includes that highly-admired renegade, America’s toughest sheriff!

    And these people present this great big huge blob of “evidence.” Well, we know they’re pretty trustworthy people, and they’re telling us this, so golly, it must be true.

    Add to this a predisposition to distrust this particular President, and it’s easy for legitimate explanations to sound like excuses — especially when those explanations are often shallow and do not much touch the body of evidence presented.

    And in fact, in order to really come to a clear and decisive verdict on ALL of the dozens of forgery theories requires literally hundreds of hours of investigation. And it’s a bit similar with the natural born citizen theories. Mario Apuzzo says the Founding Fathers meant “born on US soil of two citizen parents” when they said “natural born citizen.” Leo Donofrio says the same. And gosh, I’ve read some of their arguments and I don’t really understand them but they sure sound pretty good.

    In that context — the fact that one comes from a position of distrust of one side of the political spectrum — plus the fact that apparently trustworthy authorities present information, plus the fact that the information itself is so complex as to be completely inscrutable to the average person, then I maintain that this combination of factors does, in fact, make for a “valid concern” on the part of many people who may hear apparently authoritative claims and believe them.

    That is why I think honest debunking is important. That’s why I think this site is important. It’s part of why I wrote a book on the forgery theories; and it’s why I’ve continued to write, turning my attention more lately to the question of natural born citizenship.

  44. avatar
    JPotter March 27, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    Can’t understate the differences between the two goals either: debunkers want to reach a rational, well-supported conclusion, to make a judgement about the plausibility of a claim.

    Some birthers may actually want to ‘prove’ their claims, but it’s clear from their behavior that the majority just want to muddy the waters, attempt to create doubt, and keep it alive.

    Two very different goals and mindsets. So long as the peddlers peddle, there will be no definitives, only vigilance. If the peddlers run out of material (or drop dead), there will finally be irrelevance.

    It may not be post mortem time, but it’s definitely post partum time. Birtherism’s birth can be documented, spread and growth, but nothing truly new has emerged. All inertia now. Barring a surprise innovation! Dead on its feet at teh start of a long deflation.

  45. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 27, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    It seems to me that much of the passion from the birthers is a reflection of their anxiety and fear (about losing their job, America’s place in the world, terrorism, the rising non-white population, the rising size of the under class) and as such they gravitate towards simplistic solutions, the ultimate simplistic solution being a dictatorship of people like them. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that birthers desire a dictatorship, I would say that they are looking for authoritarian solutions. The best example is the birthers’ demand that the US Constitution prohibit Barack Obama from running for office. They are uncomfortable with letting others vote.

    Pastor Charmley: Occasionally I have got the feeling that the reason some of the Birthers and Truthers talk about a dictatorship is that they would rather like one with their side in charge; the real complaint is not that there is a dictatorship (an absurd allegation as things stand), but that it is the wrong dictatorship.

  46. avatar
    John Woodman March 27, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy: The best example is the birthers demand that the US Constitution prohibit Barack Obama from running for office.

    I have sometimes observed that some of the same people who (rightly, in my opinion) decry the nanny state demand that our Founding Fathers should have absolutely prohibited the American people from ever, under any circumstances, electing as President someone who had a non-US-citizen parent at birth.

  47. avatar
    John Woodman March 27, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    There’s a marketing aspect in all of this as well.

    Look at all the birther sites. What do they pound on that they’re all about? The “Constitution” and the “truth.” Of course they aren’t even remotely about those things, but that’s what they claim.

    And you go to the sites and what do they have plastered all over them or in mission statements?

    Defend Our Freedoms.
    A Gathering of Truth.
    Protect Our Liberty (with a bald eagle).
    A new media initiative of American patriots.
    Respecting the Contitution.
    A Place to Ask Questions and Get the Right Answers.
    Bocca Della Verita (the Mouth of Truth).
    Uncompromising journalism, seeking truth and justice.
    “We also seek to stimulate a free-and-open debate about the great moral and political ideas facing the world and to promote freedom and self-government by encouraging personal virtue and good character.”

    Say what you will, marketing has an impact. Wave a flag, proclaim that you’re for the “truth,” and people will tend to believe it. Especially when the perception is that the speaker is up against some vast mainstream media monolith that tends to brush off criticism of this particular President (claims which I tend to believe, by the way).

    So marketing has an impact — even when the marketing claims are completely false.

  48. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 27, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    I understand what you’re saying. My remark presumes that the people I’m talking about are familiar with the evidence. When did you ever see a newspaper article say “the birthers have a number of valid concerns, but the preponderance of evidence is that Barack Obama was born in the US?” When did you see anybody say that? The only time you see something like that is in a partisan statement from an Obama opponent, either someone pandering to the birthers or engaging in smear tactics.

    John Woodman: “However, no matter what the explanation, what you never see is anyone saying that birthers have a valid concern—except other birthers.”

    I also somewhat disagree with this statement.

    Of course, it kind of depends on what you mean by a birther. I often include people who are either curious or superficially convinced by what appears, at first glance, to be compelling evidence.

  49. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 27, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    You might be surprised at the number of misspellings and wrong words that I correct in comments.

    The Magic M: “era”, not “area”. I’m tired.

  50. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 27, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    I agree that a full debunking of every birther claim is a mammoth task (just look at this web site). However, fully debunking the birthers is different than saying “I find that some of their concerns are valid, but I am just not convinced that Obama was born in Kenya.”

    The natural born citizen argument is different. Responsible debaters have argued that the children of aliens born in the United States are not citizens at all. In fact, the government of the United States argued exactly that position in US v. Wong. Two dissenting justices in the Wong case agreed with that position. I would go so far as say that the NBC denialists have a legitimate argument, just a weak one that fails badly when placed up against the opposing argument.

    John Woodman: And in fact, in order to really come to a clear and decisive verdict on ALL of the dozens of forgery theories requires literally hundreds of hours of investigation. And it’s a bit similar with the natural born citizen theories

  51. avatar
    Scientist March 27, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    As regards trust vs scepticism, one of the areas I have been very interested in recently is behavioral economics. Behavioral economists have done a whole raft of experiments both with live subjects and computer algorithms to simulate market interactions and look at the role played by trust. In all of them, the best strategy is to begin the game by trusting and continue to do so as long as that is reciprocated. In the real world, societal trust is among the factors that correlates best with prosperity. A society in which no one trusts anyone other than close relatives is one in which it is very hard to do business (think Somalia). If every investment is considered a likely scam, then it will be almost impossible for someone with a really transformative idea to ever develop it.

    In an area closer to my own profession, I can point to an area that shows many parallels with birtherism and which lead to many deaths and ruined lives. When AIDS first was identified, there were many competing theories-side effects of recreational drugs, an infectious agent, nutritional deficiencies etc. At that point it was reasonable to keep an open mind. Then, in 1984, HIV was identified. Rather quickly, the data to support it as the causative agent became quite overwhelming and most scientists abandoned the other theories. One well respected virologiist, Peter Duisberg, dissented and continued to dispute that HIV caused AIDS. Despite the mountain of evidence-no one has ever had AIDS without being HIV positive, HIV viral load is the best correlate with disease progression, drugs that reduce HIV load put the disease in remission, and on and on, 10s of thousands of scientific studies-Duisberg has maintained his foolish scepticism.

    A harmless scientific dispute? Pehaps, except that Thabo Mbeki, the previous President of South Africa, the country with perhaps the highest rates of HIV infection and AIDS in the world, latched on to Duisberg’s theories for a number of largely political reasons. The result: during Mbeki’s presidency, South Africa refused to treat HIV/AIDS patients withe the anti-viral drugs that have transformed the disease from a certain death sentence to a manageable chronic condition. As a result, 100s of thousands of South Africans died, almost all of whom could have been saved. Now that Mbeki has gone, South Africa has joined the rest of the world in treating HIV/AIDS aggressively and
    the death rate from it has plummeted, as it has elsewhere.

    So, while some scepticism can be warranted, too much can be fatal. Not just figuratively, but literally.

  52. avatar
    G March 27, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Yeah, that is exactly what their real complaint is. I agree – very scary thought process there…

    Pastor Charmley: That is also deeply worrying. Occasionally I have got the feeling that the reason some of the Birthers and Truthers talk about a dictatorship is that they would rather like one with their side in charge; the real complaint is not that there is a dictatorship (an absurd allegation as things stand), but that it is the wrong dictatorship.

  53. avatar
    G March 27, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    Yep. That pretty much sums it up. I find it extremely disingenuous and shameless when they simply go back to repeating the same false information they have already been clearly corrected on. Once they do that, they are no longer just misinformed; they are intentionally lying.

    Dr. Conspiracy: That’s not how birthers work. They raise doubts, but the never debunk the anti-birthers. There have been occasions when I’ve made a mistake and a birther caught it, but when that happens, I correct my mistakes. Birthers are still repeating an April Fools joke from 2009 as if it were a true story.

  54. avatar
    G March 27, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    FIFY. I changed your word “valid” to “compelling” for a reason. I agree with the rest of your premise, but would argue that speculation and biased suspicion in any combination simply do not render anything as “valid” under the proper definition of that term.

    I see that as one of the key problems to an authoritarian leaning mindset over an evidendiary one – allowing mere perceptions and feelings to be treated as “truth” and “validity”, when that simply doesn’t render them so. It leads to a trap of rigid magical thinking and obstructs one from dealing with reality on its face.

    John Woodman: In that context — the fact that one comes from a position of distrust of one side of the political spectrum — plus the fact that apparently trustworthy authorities present information, plus the fact that the information itself is so complex as to be completely inscrutable to the average person, then I maintain that this combination of factors does, in fact, make for a “compelling concern” on the part of many people who may hear apparently authoritative claims and believe them.

  55. avatar
    G March 27, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    Oops. Should read “evidentiary”

    G: evidendiary one

  56. avatar
    G March 27, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    Well said on all accounts! I would go further to argue that this whole manufactured issue wouldn’t even exist without the dishonest peddlers repeatedly trying to push it in the first place.

    JPotter: Can’t understate the differences between the two goals either: debunkers want to reach a rational, well-supported conclusion, to make a judgement about the plausibility of a claim.

    Some birthers may actually want to prove’ their claims, but it’s clear from their behavior that the majority just want to muddy the waters, attempt to create doubt, and keep it alive.

    Two very different goals and mindsets. So long as the peddlers peddle, there will be no definitives, only vigilance. If the peddlers run out of material (or drop dead), there will finally be irrelevance.

    It may not be post mortem time, but it’s definitely post partum time. Birtherism’s birth can be documented, spread and growth, but nothing truly new has emerged. All inertia now. Barring a surprise innovation! Dead on its feet at teh start of a long deflation.

  57. avatar
    bob j March 27, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    John Wayne:
    The ONUS is on Obama to prove that he is ELIGIBLE to participate in the election.
    The onus is NOT on us to prove otherwise.
    He attended Occidental using a Fulbright scholarship.
    You do the math. (Note – a Fulbright scholarship is ONLY for foreign studensts)
    I guess that explains WHY he has used the DOJ to keep his educational records SEALED.

    If this is NOT true, then show us the beef obama…

    Anytime you need help with math, just ask.

    unless you are scared of the actual truth. What I am trying to say is: research twice and post once ( Note- the Fulbright hoax means it was made up.).

    Too bad you probably won’t admit you were wrong in this forum.

  58. avatar
    G March 27, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    Oh, I completely agree. Although, I consider such deceptive marketing practices to be nothing more that a form of intentional brainwashing. That is exactly what propaganda is and always has been all about.

    It is the same tactic as Fox News calling itself “Fair and Balanced”. Those with ill intent have often wrapped themselves in the words of patriotism or used the cover of religion to deceive and mask their true goals. Ideological “Think Tanks” do this all the time too…

    John Woodman: Say what you will, marketing has an impact. Wave a flag, proclaim that you’re for the “truth,” and people will tend to believe it. Especially when the perception is that the speaker is up against some vast mainstream media monolith that tends to brush off criticism of this particular President (claims which I tend to believe, by the way).
    So marketing has an impact — even when the marketing claims are completely false.

  59. avatar
    Sam Meyerson March 27, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    Why is “anti-Muslim” conflated with “pro-Israel” in the chart? I am strongly pro-Israel but I am certainly not anti-Muslim. I voted for Obama in 2008 and I will vote for him again in November.

  60. avatar
    nbc March 27, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    traderjack: Question , Why is the R in Barack pixilated?

    Because it is part of the background JPEG rather than the foreground monochrome bitmap.

    Simple. It’s part of the compression algorithm. I have documented this to quite some extent… Care to discuss?

  61. avatar
    The Magic M March 27, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: I would go so far as say that the NBC denialists have a legitimate argument, just a weak one that fails badly when placed up against the opposing argument.

    But they manage to screw even that one up so badly that it taints their entire stance of “looking for truth”.
    One example is propanda paraphrasing. As in “The Constitution says you need two citizen parents” (instead of “The Constitution says NBC and we have an argument why NBC means two citizen parents”). Or “SCOTUS judge … declares Obama ineligible” (instead of “We interpret this judge’s ruling from 1875 to say you need two citizen parents which Obama doesn’t have”).
    Of course, that is headlinism (I think there’s a better word but it escapes me right now), but people are actually using that in long arguments, not just in blog headlines.

    Just about everyone who might possibly consider birthers to have “a legitimate concern” is quickly turned away by all this blatant lying and distorting the truth.
    In other words, the obvious extremism of the movement prevents it from gaining a wider acceptance.
    (In a related example, I often associate anti-abortionists – which definitely have concerns I can understand – with the “kill the abortion doctors” extremist crowd, possibly because the latter are the most vocal part of the movement. And that turns me away from listening too much to pro-life arguments.)

  62. avatar
    JPotter March 27, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    Sam Meyerson: Why is “anti-Muslim” conflated with “pro-Israel” in the chart? I am strongly pro-Israel but I am certainly not anti-Muslim. I voted for Obama in 2008 and I will vote for him again in November.

    I do not think it is meant to imply that the positions are linked, but that those positions can set a person up to find birther claims desirous. Of course you can be pro-Israel but not anti-Muslim, or also against Israel and Islam. However, in the circles in which birthers tend to originate from (the far right), rabid combined anti-Muslim / blind support for Israel go hand-in-hand. (The type of Zionsim that ties to American Millenialism).

    And those feelings tie right in / contribute to / drive the “Obama is a Muslim” meme (itself furthered bolstered by cultural insulation and ignorance) and the “Obama betrayed Israel” meme.

    In no way does it indicate persons with those positions are at all birthers based on those facts alone.

  63. avatar
    jayHG March 27, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    John Woodman, you said:

    “Especially when the perception is that the speaker is up against some vast mainstream media monolith that tends to brush off criticism of this particular President (claims which I tend to believe, by the way).”

    Do you actually believe that the birthers are where they are and treated with disdain as they are because there really is “some vast mainstream media monolith that tends to brush off criticism” of President Obama??? You can’t be serious.

    President Obama is held to a higher standard than any president since I’ve been voting. He was expected to practically walk on water/snap his finger and REVERSE the state of this country after George Bush left us with two wars and tons of other things.

    Are you seriously saying that you believe that the media (this is a favorite birther talking point, by the way) brushes off criticism of THIS president??? If you do believe this, sorry, but I’m going to think that you’re much more sympathic to the birthers than you want to let on.

  64. avatar
    G March 27, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    I must have read too quickly and overlooked that portion of Mr. Woodman’s statement.

    I agree and support the points that jayHG has made, so the rest of my post here is really directed at Mr. Woodman, but are also intented for general reflection by everyone reading.

    It is one thing to simply point out that such a “perception” exists, because it does and that is one of the main problems here.

    Perceptions do NOT equate reality/truth and perceptions can easily be wrong. These terms should certainly not be used interchangeably. So it is completely a different argument to merely point out that a certain widespread “perception” has taken root than it is to claim that a certain perception is right.

    If Mr. Woodman buys into that long-standing false perception of “liberal media bias”, then that is part of the problem of where he himself has simply been brainwashed to buy into a false meme which doesn’t hold up well under true objective scrutity. I challenge Mr. Woodman to go back and reexamine that media trope he holds in the same objective manner which he looked into Birtherism. If he does, I predict reason will eventually lead him to drop that perception as well.

    Mr. Woodman needs to take an objective look at who actually owns the mainstream media organizations and conglomerations in this country. He will find that in most cases, they are very conservative. There is no question that mainstream talk radio is dominated by right wing radio shows.

    On the TV perspective, Fox News Channel is the largest cable news channel by viewership out there (and therefore is clearly part of the “mainstream”) and I really challenge Mr. Woodman to defend that they are not constantly pushing an intentional conservative propaganda agenda and are extremely anti-Obama in the agenda of their coverage. I challenge him to compare how Fox treated the GWB adminsistration through the majority of his terms to how they treat Obama. Heck, I challenge him to objectively loook at how this administration has been criticized in the overall mainstream media and compare it to the lead-up time towards the Iraq War and how barely any criticism of the President or the administration’s policies were tolerated during that time. I ask Mr. Woodman to honestly assess his own viewpoints during that time period and if his gut feeling in those days was that such criticism was “unpatriotic” and what changed to flip and now seem to be bothered if he feels he doesn’t hear *enough* criticism of a President at all times of the day.

    I could continue this tangent of questioning, but I think I’ve made my point. These are the very types of ideological “perceptions” that CAUSE the polarizing problems in this nation.

    When you only treat the office with respect and as “legit” when it is in the hands of your own political party, then the source of that bias problem is NOT really the office or even the office holder, but YOU.

    jayHG: John Woodman, you said: “Especially when the perception is that the speaker is up against some vast mainstream media monolith that tends to brush off criticism of this particular President (claims which I tend to believe, by the way). ”Do you actually believe that the birthers are where they are and treated with disdain as they are because there really is “some vast mainstream media monolith that tends to brush off criticism” of President Obama??? You can’t be serious.President Obama is held to a higher standard than any president since I’ve been voting. He was expected to practically walk on water/snap his finger and REVERSE the state of this country after George Bush left us with two wars and tons of other things.Are you seriously saying that you believe that the media (this is a favorite birther talking point, by the way) brushes off criticism of THIS president??? If you do believe this, sorry, but I’m going to think that you’re much more sympathic to the birthers than you want to let on.

  65. avatar
    Paper March 27, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

    So, then, a “concern” wrapped inside a lie wrapped inside a joke?

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    More accurately, an April Fools joke. Any purported news story dated April 1 really should be treated skeptically.

  66. avatar
    John Woodman March 27, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    Let me clarify a previous statement: My own perception is that a liberal bias does exist in most of the mainstream media. It is not there in talk radio, which has an admittedly conservative bias. But as far as the major newspapers go, the major networks with the exception of Fox, yes, I personally think that there’s a liberal bias there.

    My recollection of 8 years of President Bush is that he was basically pretty much crucified by the media at every opportunity. Even trumped-up charges against him were given major airplay. I don’t think the media, by and large, has ever been anywhere near as critical of Obama as they were of Bush.

    And perhaps that’s just a perception. It is my honest perception, nonetheless.

  67. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 27, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    A conservative is biased to see liberal bias in the media and a liberal is biased towards see conservative bias in the media. That’s how confirmation bias works. Every time I see something I think is too conservative, I check a mental box that it’s biased, and I keep doing that. If something shows both sides, I’ll zoom in on just the conservative part and check the box. If something liberal appears, I’ll tend to ignore it, or chalk it up as an aberration.

    I did try to be objective once. I listened to Fox News election coverage for a while, covering multiple programs.I had a clipboard. Every time someone said something for or against a candidate I wrote down a short sentence of the main point. When I finished, every point was pro-McCain/Palin or anti-Obama/Biden. After that exercise, I could say with confidence that Fox News had biased coverage of the 2008 election.

    However, unless someone actually takes a sample and crunches the numbers, their confirmation bias will guide the impressions as much or more than what they are observing.

    At least we agree on talk radio and Fox News, and I assume that about everyone would also agree that MSNBC has a liberal bias.

    However, a lot of folks get their news from National Public Radio (including me), and my reading indicates that there is widespread consensus that the PBS News Hour is about the most unbiased source you can find. I think you get honest stories from Politifact and Factcheck.

    I really don’t spend much time anywhere else, so I won’t try to characterize the rest.

    John Woodman: And perhaps that’s just a perception. It is my honest perception, nonetheless.

  68. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 27, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

    Ah, a comment like a fine wine.

    Paper: So, then, a “concern” wrapped inside a lie wrapped inside a joke?

  69. avatar
    BillTheCat March 27, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    I’ve always thought the idea of a “liberal bias” in the media is a complete falsehood. Back in the old days, it wasn’t called “liberal bias” – it was called honest, truthful reporting. I think people who call it “liberal” simply do not appreciate that the news is reporting the facts contrary to their narrow and enclosed world view.

    Like Walter Cronkite reporting the Vietnam war – it wasn’t seen as liberal bias – it was the truth. Nowadays, all of those great reporters would be seen by todays right wing as “liberal”. What a crock.

  70. avatar
    G March 27, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    I’ll let your reply to Mr. Woodman also act as a stand-in for most of my own, as I basically agree with you on the points of your reply that I cited below.

    The KEY here is that such inherent biases cause all of us to focus in on certain things that push our buttons and often overlook the rest that doesn’t.

    As you correctly mentioned, one has to collectively do the research and make sincere attempt at apples-to-apples objective comparisons in order to cut through those perception biases and see what the real picture provides.

    There are a number of organizations out there that DO attempt to do just that. Anyone who takes the time to look into it can easily find a number of studies on the issue. Sadly, I come to find that many self-described conservatives have merely become conditioned to utterly tune out and ignore any studies or evidence that challenges their perception bias. Although I certainly see lots of evidence of liberals being stuck in their own confirmation bias, I have also found a greater willingness of liberal sources to correct themselves when wrong and to be a bit more objective in criticizing and scrutinizing their own sources and their conclusions.

    The problem has gotten out of control because the abuses and practices out there have become so lopsided in terms of behavioral accountability and willingness to not only point this out, but also to course correct. This has led to an annoying level of false equivalency out there in trying to inject a false sense of “balance”. This has only led to a worsening of these entrenched behavioral patterns – which is really nothing but a detriment to both sides. The conservatives wrongheadedly tend to simply protect their own and double-down on accepting irresponsible behavior and then blaming their own problems on the other side. The liberals cede ground and capitulate to accepting this pattern and reinforcing these false equivalency memes all the time. The outcome has been bad for both sides, but not in the same manner and not in any sense of “balance” or equal abuse at all.

    Dr. Conspiracy: A conservative is biased to see liberal bias in the media and a liberal is biased towards see conservative bias in the media. That’s how confirmation bias works. Every time I see something I think is too conservative, I check a mental box that it’s biased, and I keep doing that. If something shows both sides, I’ll zoom in on just the conservative part and check the box. If something liberal appears, I’ll tend to ignore it, or chalk it up as an aberration.

    I did try to be objective once. I listened to Fox News election coverage for a while, covering multiple programs.I had a clipboard. Every time someone said something for or against a candidate I wrote down a short sentence of the main point. When I finished, every point was pro-McCain/Palin or anti-Obama/Biden. After that exercise, I could say with confidence that Fox News had biased coverage of the 2008 election.

    However, unless someone actually takes a sample and crunches the numbers, their confirmation bias will guide the impressions as much or more than what they are observing.

  71. avatar
    G March 27, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    Yes, MSNBC has become more liberal in its editorialized reporting as a direct counter to Fox News, but there is no equal comparison between the two and how they behave on any level. For one, the reach and proportional viewing audience are simply not equivalent at all. Therefore, what happens on FNC holds a much, much greater sway with audience reach and as a result, they are simply a much greater proportion of “mainstream media” influence towards the whole picture.

    Further, and much more importantly, there is a HUGE difference in how MSNBC and FNC operate in practice towards their audience. FNC falsely uses the theme of “Fair and Balanced” to MISREPRESENT itself and its clearly conservative bias and intent. MSNBC does not deny theirs. MSNBC will also go out of its way to punish its staff, when they cross certain “ethical political” lines and are fairly quick to openly issue retractions or corrections and to repeatedly apologize and own up to them. FNC does NOT adhere to that same level of correcting its mistakes – NOT even close.

    Second, there are innumerable examples constantly being reported that clearly show that FNC is not simply trying to provide a conservative perspective in reporting news, but are INTENTIONALLY operating as a PROPAGANDA outlet to create and push memes for the GOP & conservative causes. They also are known for repeated deceptive reporting practices – ones that have occurred way too many times to simply be coincidental errors or mistakes. For example, there are numerous clips from FNC where they will attribute a “bad news” story by incorrectly placing a (D) next to the name of a GOP person who is in trouble.

    Heck, a big expose came out (I think it was in Rolling Stone, but it was widely reported) well over a year ago, showing Roger Ailes own statements that proved that manipulating the populace through a propaganda agenda wrapped in an engaging and attractive format was his clear intent all along.

    There are also numerous examples of where FNC is caught manufacturing talking point memes, by having someone in the morning plant the seed of a purely speculative smear out there and then have later shows focus more and more of their time reporting an increasing line of “some people say” and end up with claims that they are only reporting a story because “others” are talking about it and reporting it….when THEY are the only one’s that brought it up and were reporting it in the first place! There are also several examples of FNC folks (often the morning bunch) being caught red-handed reading straight from the latest GOP-issued talking point memo.

    What FNC has built its success on is boils down to little more than the same cheap propaganda tactic that WND desperately tries to employ. No wonder Corsi and WND are going off on several intense rants targeted at FNC these days – because they feel betrayed by an organization that won’t give them any airtime on the Birther issue, when they know full well that FNC simply applies a similar propaganda business model tactic to what WND attempts.

    The difference is that FNC is such an overwhelming giant in the mainstream media, that it can still fairly easily goad other media outlets into reporting on its manufactured memes, simply because of its sheer power of reach. However, even FNC realizes that its own credibility and continued effectiveness has been severely hampered by more and more folks becoming wise to their antics and reporting on their behavior. FNC has enough brains to realize that some smears are simply too ludicrous and unsupportable for even them to get away with pushing them and openly attempting to do so would be too damaging to what air of credibility still remains in their brand. That is why not even FNC wants to touch the Birther nonsense. That really says something when a set of smears is so flimsy and ugly that they are beneath where even FNC is willing to go…

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    At least we agree on talk radio and Fox News, and I assume that about everyone would also agree that MSNBC has a liberal bias.

  72. avatar
    G March 27, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    I would agree with you about sources such as FactCheck and Snopes being solid and objective.

    However, Politifact seems to have spent the past year tarnishing its own credibility significantly. There have been a number of scathing recent reports about them , with specific examples that have increasingly arisen, showing that they seem to be intentionally trying to introduce false-equivalency into their ratings and reporting in order to convey a false sense of “balance”. When fact-based ratings are no longer being applied to all situations with the same level of objective standard, then they have only destroyed their own credibility as an objective “fact checking” organization.

    Dr. Conspiracy:

    However, a lot of folks get their news from National Public Radio (including me), and my reading indicates that there is widespread consensus that the PBS News Hour is about the most unbiased source you can find. I think you get honest stories from Politifact and Factcheck.

  73. avatar
    Paper March 27, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    See! I was just thinking about saying that I find Factcheck much better than Politifact. Are you sure you’re not me, or I’m not you, pretending to be each other? I would be the first to know, wouldn’t I? 🙂

    G: I would agree with you about sources such as FactCheck and Snopes being solid and objective.

    However, Politifact

  74. avatar
    G March 27, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    I understand how Mr. Woodman has developed his selective bias, but he really needs to reassess the whole period of GWB’s term in his memory. True, there was a firestorm of coverage controversy at the beginning of his election and also around his re-election. I would consider that to be an understandable issue to cover and debate, when an election result ended up so close (and the first one, the final result was unclear until the courts had to weigh in). So, I would argue that simply reporting on any extremely close election is going to garnish a lot of coverage and as a result, generate both scrutiny and criticism.

    Also, after the debacle of Katrina in late 2005, I would agree that also provided a major turning point in terms of how the GWB administration was reported on and covered – even by Fox News. I would attribute that to simply crossing the threshold of clear disappointments, controversies and failures by an Administration that it had earned a more cynical level of coverage by then: The Iraq War was going badly and the justifications we were told for why we went there were more and more be revealed through drips and drabs as never true in the first place. The administration’s signature platform goals were not getting any traction (comprehensive immigration reform, privatizing of Social Security) and indeed, were getting a lot of hostile blowback – especially from within his own party. Our reputation amongst other nations had been greatly damaged – an especially sharp loss, considering how much international support rallied behind us right after 9/11. Osama Bin Laden was still out there and Al Qaeda actually seemed to be growing – and now had spread and was taking advantage of the mess in Iraq. “No Child Left Behind” wasn’t living up to its promise. Etc. …And I’m not even getting to the whole debacle and collapse of the financial system in the last year of his term.

    So yeah, in the later years of the GWB Administration, the string of disappointments had become so vast and numerous that I would agree with you the overall media became increasingly scathing and skeptical in its coverage.

    HOWEVER – I ask you to try to also remember those earlier years. His first year – post inauguration until 9/11 was fairly light and fluffy on coverage. There wasn’t this endless cycle of nearly non-stop political news-based focus on editorializing as we have now. Yeah, you had the partisan hacks at “Crossfire” over at CNN back then, but there wasn’t much more than that. The news “infotainment” cycle seemed more focused on covering stories about Hollywood celebrities and the stock market. (Remember the internet stock bubble?). Bush was fairly well treated and generally left alone.

    Then came 9/11 and the country understandably rallied behind its President and the focus of coverage was understandably on trying to figure out how 9/11 happened, how to prevent it from happening again and on the coalition war we took up to go after OBL in Afghanistan. However, in the next year, the GWB Administration started laying the groundwork for leading us to war in Iraq…and then took us into that war, which had a messy and poorly planned out aftermath.

    Heck, even in those days, when there wasn’t war coverage dominating the headlines (with a mostly patriotic slant), the rest of the media wasn’t anywhere nearly as obsessively focused on political stories and criticism of the GWB administration as anything we’ve seen since the very moment Obama took office. Other than Hardball and eventually Olbermann’s Countdown, MSNBC seemed mainly focused on covering court cases…as did much of the rest of the mainstream media, including Fox News. And when it wasn’t that, it was again more “infotainment” type of pop culture stories and missing child stories and the rest of paying too much attention to what happens in the lives of various celebrity figures.

    So I ask you Mr. Woodman, to go back and try to honestly remember GWB’s first term and how different the media environment and coverage were during THAT period of time. Heck, in the post 9/11 period, particularly on the issue of the Iraq War, his administration was given an excessive pass and benefit of the doubt throughout most of the mainstream media. People who questioned those actions or the Administration in general were the ones who had their own patriotism called into question immediately and were treated by overwhelming scorn across most of the media spectrum.

    So, I think part of your perception recollection problem here is simply more than an ideological bias, but also a timeline bias in where you focus your recall – on how the environment understandably soured on him during his second term and NOT on the broad base of support and sheltering that the media provided him during most of his first term.

    I therefore argue that your overall perception IS misplaced and that if you applied any true objective apples-to-apples comparison of GWB’s first term and Obama’s first term and how the coverage progressed, the results would lead to two things:

    1. An objective explanation and understanding of how certain events and successes or failures simply result in corresponding positive or negative coverage results – period. How well someone’s campaign succeeds and the size of their margin of victory and ability to deliver speeches and legitimate reasons to garnish legitimate praise or criticism in the media, regardless of ideological bias. Threats to this nation make an understandable rallying point, as does war. Successful actions in war will result in positive coverage. Failure to achieve policy goals, campaign promises or bungling of wars, national disasters and the economy will bring on understandably negative coverage.
    2. When looking at those factors and then comparing it to the level and scrutiny of political coverage in the media in response, I would argue that the opposite of what you perceive is what actually took place – in other words I don’t think the media, by and large, has ever been anywhere near as critical of Bush as they were of Obama. .

    Sure, he received a short initial honeymoon period of positive coverage and hopeful stories in his first few months – AS ALL PRESIDENTS DO. Then again, that should be understandable, when someone comes from being the lesser known underdog to defeating first the Clinton machine and then delivering a stunningly decisive electoral victory margin, especially after coming off of two election cycles with only the slimmest margins of victory. And yes, it was a historical election for the nation for many obvious reasons. And yes, no one can question that he ran a masterful and impressive campaign structure and was a masterful speaker. So yeah, there were lots of reasons he received a lot of initial positive coverage – reasons I would argue that he EARNED with those achievements. However, the GOP and FNC went after him hard right off the bat in openly opposing and were barely called out on it in the rest of the media. The Tea Party phenomenon quickly emerged and was propped up by FNC and given broad coverage everywhere. Politics suddenly dominated the breadth of most major news cycles and every messy step of legislation that congress and his administration pursued were covered and criticized at a level never seen before.

    Whether it was a failing of this administration’s messaging or simply reflecting the mainstream media’s true “conservative bias”, there was barely a mainstream outlet that wasn’t chock full of conservative political punditry offering terse criticism at every turn. Heck, just look at the Sunday political talk shows during his entire term – objectively note who was booked and spoke out on issues. That comparison is stark and not even close – conservative guests have dominated that spectrum and therefore, have had the greatest floor for spreading their messages and opinions to the general public and controlling the overall mainstream media narratives and news cycles.

    Look, I know you’ve also mentioned traditional print journalism and yes, they are part of “mainstream” media, but an ever shrinking part of what drives it. Heck, I’m 40 years old and there is barely anyone I know in my age bracket that still reads physical newspapers. News is mostly obtained online or from radio or from TV (which also is increasingly accessed online).

    But even in print media, how many of those operations are really conservative papers these days or owned by conservative conglomerates? Washington Post, Wall Street Times, anything owned by Rupert Murdoch’s empire, etc?

    No, the days of there being a “liberal dominated media” have long passed. I actually think it is now clearly past time that we openly acknowledge the overwhelming dominance of conservative media and should focus more scrutiny on the vast conservative media bias in today’s “mainstream media”.

    John Woodman:
    My recollection of 8 years of President Bush is that he was basically pretty much crucified by the media at every opportunity. Even trumped-up charges against him were given major airplay. I don’t think the media, by and large, has ever been anywhere near as critical of Obama as they were of Bush.

    And perhaps that’s just a perception. It is my honest perception, nonetheless.

  75. avatar
    jayhg March 28, 2012 at 12:02 am #

    G:
    Yes, MSNBC has become more liberal in its editorialized reporting as a direct counter to Fox News, but there is no equal comparison between the two and how they behave on any level.For one, the reach and proportional viewing audience are simply not equivalent at all.Therefore, what happens on FNC holds a much, much greater sway with audience reach and as a result, they are simply a much greater proportion of “mainstream media” influence towards the whole picture.

    Further, and much more importantly, there is a HUGE difference in how MSNBC and FNC operate in practice towards their audience.FNC falsely uses the theme of “Fair and Balanced” to MISREPRESENT itself and its clearly conservative bias and intent.MSNBC does not deny theirs. MSNBC will also go out of its way to punish its staff, when they cross certain “ethical political” lines and are fairly quick to openly issue retractions or corrections and to repeatedly apologize and own up to them.FNC does NOT adhere to that same level of correcting its mistakes – NOT even close.

    Second, there are innumerable examples constantly being reported that clearly show that FNC is not simply trying to provide a conservative perspective in reporting news, but are INTENTIONALLY operating as a PROPAGANDA outlet to create and push memes for the GOP & conservative causes. They also are known for repeated deceptive reporting practices – ones that have occurred way too many times to simply be coincidental errors or mistakes.For example, there are numerous clips from FNC where they will attribute a “bad news” story by incorrectly placing a (D) next to the name of a GOP person who is in trouble.

    Heck, a big expose came out (I think it was in Rolling Stone, but it was widely reported) well over a year ago, showing Roger Ailes own statements that proved that manipulating the populace through a propaganda agenda wrapped in an engaging and attractive format was his clear intent all along.

    There are also numerous examples of where FNC is caught manufacturing talking point memes, by having someone in the morning plant the seed of a purely speculative smear out there and then have later shows focus more and more of their time reporting an increasing line of “some people say” and end up with claims that they are only reporting a story because “others” are talking about it and reporting it….when THEY are the only one’s that brought it up and were reporting it in the first place!There are also several examples of FNC folks (often the morning bunch) being caught red-handed reading straight from the latest GOP-issued talking point memo.

    What FNC has built its success on is boils down to little more than the same cheap propaganda tactic that WND desperately tries to employ.No wonder Corsi and WND are going off on several intense rants targeted at FNC these days – because they feel betrayed by an organization that won’t give them any airtime on the Birther issue, when they know full well that FNC simply applies a similar propaganda business model tactic to what WND attempts.

    The difference is that FNC is such an overwhelming giant in the mainstream media, that it can still fairly easily goad other media outlets into reporting on its manufactured memes, simply because of its sheer power of reach.However, even FNC realizes that its own credibility and continued effectiveness has been severely hampered by more and more folks becoming wise to their antics and reporting on their behavior.FNC has enough brains to realize that some smears are simply too ludicrous and unsupportable for even them to get away with pushing them and openly attempting to do so would be too damaging to what air of credibility still remains in their brand.That is why not even FNC wants to touch the Birther nonsense. That really says something when a set of smears is so flimsy and ugly that they are beneath where even FNC is willing to go…

    Everything you said…..EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  76. avatar
    jayhg March 28, 2012 at 12:06 am #

    John Woodman:
    Let me clarify a previous statement: My own perception is that a liberal bias does exist in most of the mainstream media. It is not there in talk radio, which has an admittedly conservative bias. But as far as the major newspapers go, the major networks with the exception of Fox, yes, I personally think that there’s a liberal bias there.

    My recollection of 8 years of President Bush is that he was basically pretty much crucified by the media at every opportunity. Even trumped-up charges against him were given major airplay. I don’t think the media, by and large, has ever been anywhere near as critical of Obama as they were of Bush.

    And perhaps that’s just a perception. It is my honest perception, nonetheless.

    During a large part of George Bush’s presidency, you were call unpatriotic if you merely questioned that idiot’s choices as president………Fox especially tried desparately to paint ANY criticism as un-American……..it was pathetic.

  77. avatar
    John Woodman March 28, 2012 at 12:11 am #

    I don’t really want to get into a contest on this point. I will merely note that the only academic study that I’m really aware of — which was several years ago — found that not only was there a liberal bias in the media, it was described as a “strong” liberal bias. The study is easily findable online.

    I will also add that I think one or two other attempts to measure such a thing were much less conclusive.

  78. avatar
    jayhg March 28, 2012 at 12:13 am #

    John Woodman:
    I don’t really want to get into a contest on this point. I will merely note that the only academic study that I’m really aware of — which was several years ago — found that not only was there a liberal bias in the media, it was described as a “strong” liberal bias. The study is easily findable online.

    I will also add that I think one or two other attempts to measure such a thing were much less conclusive.

    Well then stop the madness and admit you’re really a birther…..

  79. avatar
    Rickey March 28, 2012 at 12:15 am #

    Apropos of this topic, and particularly the echo chamber aspect of it, I came across the following passage while reading “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William L. Shirer:

    Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.

    The Nazis, of course, had shut down all opposition newspapers and radio stations. While no similar degree of censorship exists in the United States, the explosion of cable and satellite television and the Internet has led to a form of self-censorship which allows – indeed, encourages – people to restrict themselves to news sources which tell them only what they want to hear. So it is hardly surprising that a Farleigh Dickinson University poll conducted last fall shows that Fox News viewers are less knowledgeable about current events than people who watch no news shows at all. And if Fox News viewers are that ignorant, how much more ignorant are the people who rely upon World Net Daily for their information?

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2011/11/21/fox-news-viewers-uninformed-npr-listeners-not-poll-suggests/

  80. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 28, 2012 at 12:31 am #

    Perhaps you refer to the 1986 academic study The Media Elite. A more recent study found that a majority of journalists, although relatively liberal on social policies, were significantly to the right of the public on economic, labor, health care and foreign policy issues.

    But any study of bias is bound to have its own issues with bias. One opinion study found that folks found Fox news left of center! But it’s not really a topic for this blog beyond discussing how bias influences thinking about conspiracy theories.

    John Woodman: I don’t really want to get into a contest on this point. I will merely note that the only academic study that I’m really aware of — which was several years ago — found that not only was there a liberal bias in the media, it was described as a “strong” liberal bias. The study is easily findable online.

  81. avatar
    John Woodman March 28, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    No the study I refer to was a 2004 study from UCLA/ University of Missouri.

    Few studies provide an objective measure of the slant of news, and none has provided a way to link such a measure to ideological measures of other political actors. That is, none of the existing measures can say, for example, whether the New York Times is more liberal than Tom Daschle or whether Fox News is more conservative than Bill Frist. We provide such a measure. Namely, we compute an ADA score for various news outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Drudge Report, Fox News’ Special Report, and all three networks’ nightly news shows.

    Our results show a strong liberal bias. All of the news outlets except Fox News’ Special Report and the Washington Times received a score to the left of the average member of Congress. And a few outlets, including the New York Times and CBS Evening News, were closer to the average Democrat in Congress than the center. These findings refer strictly to the news stories of the outlets. That is, we omitted editorials, book reviews, and letters to the editor from our sample.

  82. avatar
    jayhg March 28, 2012 at 12:41 am #

    “So it is hardly surprising that a Farleigh Dickinson University poll conducted last fall shows that Fox News viewers are less knowledgeable about current events than people who watch no news shows at all. And if Fox News viewers are that ignorant, how much more ignorant are the people who rely upon World Net Daily for their information?”

    While I thought Fox news watchers were not the brightest bulbs/sharpest knives, etc., I was shocked to learn that they were less informed than folks who read NO NEWS AT ALL….that’s just embarassing…….

  83. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 28, 2012 at 12:42 am #

    Odd calibration point, wouldn’t you say?

    I suppose that it is interesting to see whether the media is to the left or right of some average, but there is a objective truth out there too. Bias should be measured against expert consensus, not public opinion.

    Liberals may generally believe that global warming is real and that human activity makes it worse and many conservatives believe the opposite, but it’s not bias for the media to take sides on this question when the objective scientific evidence is on one side. And it is not bias for the media to universally pan Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s claims that the birth certificate is a fake. Conservatives and Republicans are more likely to doubt Obama’s birth certificate than Democrats and liberals. On that axis, the media are to the left of even Democrats and liberals on the birth certificate issue, but that’s not bias.

    John Woodman: received a score to the left of the average member of Congress

  84. avatar
    Rickey March 28, 2012 at 12:49 am #

    John Woodman:
    No the study I refer to was a 2004 study from UCLA/ University of Missouri.

    Link to a scathing critique of that study.

    http://mediamatters.org/research/200512220003

  85. avatar
    John Woodman March 28, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    Okay, the thing that stands out to me from a quick perusal of that critique is that the named study is likely flawed, and there’s a meta-analysis from 2000 that found only small biases. At this point, I’d tend to go with the meta-analysis and say probably there’s not much bias overall in the media.

    I’m open to changing my mind. At the moment my opinion on the matter is pretty lightly held. It’s not an issue I lie awake at night thinking about, and it’s not something I’m likely to devote a great deal of time to at this point. I have lots of other things to think about.

  86. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 28, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    OMG, that study cited WorldNetDaily?!?!?!?!?!?!?

    Rickey: Link to a scathing critique of that study.

  87. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 28, 2012 at 1:10 am #

    You’d make a lousy birther.

    John Woodman: I’m open to changing my mind. At the moment my opinion on the matter is pretty lightly held

  88. avatar
    John Woodman March 28, 2012 at 1:11 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    You’d make a lousy birther.

    I already made a lousy birther.

  89. avatar
    J. Potter March 28, 2012 at 1:24 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    OMG, that study cited WorldNetDaily?!?!?!?!?!?!?

    Hey, WND is a good enough source for Corsi, right? (well, even Corsi is a good enough source for Corsi)

    The note that they “overlooked” the entire field of media studies was hysterical. But of course a conservative ‘political scientist’ would dismiss that as a tainted liberal field … liberal professors and professionals tied to liberal universities responsible for creating the liberal bias.

    Prof. Groseclose is making some claims tailor-made for pre-existing views (sounds like pandering!)

    Link in mediamatters piece lead to a 404 at UCLA, which linked to the author’s page—ha has a book for sale! What a stunner. Taken from its promo page on Prof’s own domain:

    Among his conclusions are (i) all mainstream media outlets have a liberal bias, and (ii) while some supposedly conservative outlets—such as the Washington Times or Fox News Special Report—do lean right, their conservative bias is less than the liberal bias of most mainstream outlets…

    Despite what my hard-science friends might say, it is possible to analyze politics, including media bias, objectively, numerically, and, yes, scientifically.
    http://www.timgroseclose.com/about-the-book/

  90. avatar
    G March 28, 2012 at 1:45 am #

    I appreciate you sharing that, although it would be nice if you included a link with your citations next time. I always like to have the option of following up for further reading myself.

    In that note, I hope you will be open-minded enough to read the counter-point criticism article in regards to that very study, which Rickey cited in response. I’ve included his post and link at the bottom below, so that both arguments are represented together, for convenience.

    John Woodman: No the study I refer to was a 2004 study from UCLA/ University of Missouri.Few studies provide an objective measure of the slant of news, and none has provided a way to link such a measure to ideological measures of other political actors. That is, none of the existing measures can say, for example, whether the New York Times is more liberal than Tom Daschle or whether Fox News is more conservative than Bill Frist. We provide such a measure. Namely, we compute an ADA score for various news outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Drudge Report, Fox News’ Special Report, and all three networks’ nightly news shows. Our results show a strong liberal bias. All of the news outlets except Fox News’ Special Report and the Washington Times received a score to the left of the average member of Congress. And a few outlets, including the New York Times and CBS Evening News, were closer to the average Democrat in Congress than the center. These findings refer strictly to the news stories of the outlets. That is, we omitted editorials, book reviews, and letters to the editor from our sample.

    Rickey: John Woodman:No the study I refer to was a 2004 study from UCLA/ University of Missouri. Link to a scathing critique of that study.

    http://mediamatters.org/research/200512220003

  91. avatar
    G March 28, 2012 at 2:20 am #

    John, in your defense, I always appreciate your open-mindedness. I hope you view the time I put towards responding to you as a sign of well-intended respect in challenging you and NOT trying to criticize you.

    I also think you’ve made excellent points about perception and the role that bias plays in terms of what particular triggers stick with each of our memories. It is always healthy to re-examine and reflect upon the past with an open mind and a detatched perspective.

    I do want to re-emphasize a major point that I tried to make earlier – I think TIMESCALE REFERENCE is a whole aspect of subjective bias that can be completely unrelated to ideology and one that is a simpler trap for ALL of us to fall into.

    What I mean by that clumsy term is that it is very easy for our impressions on an issue to become fixated with how things appeared at a fixed period of time. However, time doesn’t stand still and the situation on the ground often shifts and changes from what it once was. Therefore, a perception we have about an issue may have been a lot more correct at the time it became imprinted upon us….but those perceptions may simply no longer hold up well to the environmental realities surrounding the issue today.

    For instance, as I tried to convey in one of my posts above – I think your perception of media bias against GWB did hold true – but ONLY for period of his Presidency that occurred POST-KATRINA, which took place in his second term. It simply became a symbolic final straw of systemic disappointments.

    However, that still leaves the bulk (most of the first 5 of his 8 years), where the media treatment of his administration was fairly “gentle” in comparison of the kind of endless political coverage and scrutiny we’ve seen over the past 4 years.

    So, apples-to-apples comparisons between Presidents and their coverage need to not gloss over such issues of context and take into account the changes that occurred over time and what led to those differences. If you simply try to force yourself to make a habit of taking both event changes and different slices of time into context, it will become easier to draw more objective comparisons than to leap to such sweeping generalized conclusions, which only feed into whatever preconceived bias any of us fixated upon at at given moment of time.

    I would argue that the same is definitely true with the issue of “liberal media bias” and the perception of such – TIME PERIOD MATTERS. That meme of “liberal media bias” has been around for several decades now. I’m not sure when it started or how it originated. It is something we’ve all heard and I too simply assumed as true for the longest time.

    Maybe that is how things were at one point, and the drastic shifts we have seen in recent years came about as a counter-reaction to that… That certainly is possible…

    But more importantly, it doesn’t seem to hold up under much scrutiny to how the US media works and is dominated today. So much has changed in terms of how we receive news and the degradation of journalistic practices in favor of sensationalized “infotainment” that the media environment today is not the same as it was even 4 years ago, let alone a decade ago, let alone twenty years ago…etc. Not to mention that the ownership of many mainstream media outlets has put them in the hands of a smaller and smaller pool of mega-conglomerates. That has a significant impact too and cannot be ignored, particularly when certain media conglomerates and their owners seem to have a fairly clear political bent.

    So yeah, maybe at one point in time, there was more validity to the argument of a “liberal mainstream media bias”…but regardless of whether there once was, it is hard for any rational person to deny that the structure and dynamic has drastically shifted further towards the right on just about all levels and platforms, especially in recent years.

    John Woodman: Okay, the thing that stands out to me from a quick perusal of that critique is that the named study is likely flawed, and there’s a meta-analysis from 2000 that found only small biases. At this point, I’d tend to go with the meta-analysis and say probably there’s not much bias overall in the media.
    I’m open to changing my mind. At the moment my opinion on the matter is pretty lightly held. It’s not an issue I lie awake at night thinking about, and it’s not something I’m likely to devote a great deal of time to at this point. I have lots of other things to think about.