How should we understand this latest and most troubling insight into the reality of our media ecology?
In the aftermath of the resolution of the Great Birther bash-up, even as President Obama tried to lay the issue at rest by producing the document that showed, proved, verified, documented, and validated his birth in one of the great states of our disunion, it was said that its release would only fuel more debate, and convince no one.
In other words, in the end, this long debated fact didn’t matter. Facts no longer seem to matter on other issues, too, as articulated in the now infamous memo issued by retiring Senator Jon Kyle whose office, when confronted with evidence that he misspoke on the matter of how much money Planned Parenthood spent on abortions—he claimed 90%, the truth was but 3%, issued an advisory that said, “The statement was not meant to be factual.”
The Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and Stephen Colbert had a lot of fun with that but one thing that’s not funny is that even when media coverage discredits or exposes some canard, public opinion is not necessarily impacted. It doesn’t change the minds of those whose minds are made up.
Once some people buy into a narrative or worldview they seem to be locked into a way of thinking. For some, efforts to discredit a conspiracy theory offer more evidence that the conspiracy is valid, because why else would THEY want to refute it.
If you don’t trust the President, don’t believe he is an American or do believe he is a socialist, nothing he or his supporters say will change your mind. After all, what would you expect them to say? So even refutation can turn into reinforcement and trigger more stridency.
Dismissing critics as “silly,” as Obama has done, only annoys them and makes them more determined to cling to their ideas, attitudes and anger.
The values (and prejudices) people grew up with often shape their worldviews. Their parochialism limits what they are exposed to. Their schooling and narrow range of experience seem to have had little impact in broadening their views.
Political scientist Thomas Patterson describes this as “The process by which individuals acquire their political opinions is called political socialization.
This process begins in childhood, when, through family and school, Americans acquire many of their basic political values and beliefs. Socialization continues into adulthood, when peers, political institutions and leaders, and the news media are major influences.”