Monday, May 21, 2012

Information, trust and gut feelings

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This Review is a political e-pamphlet about one of the most colorful and controversial media characters of our era. This blog can be read from three basic perspectives, and this post will outline those perspectives. More important, this will provide an explanation to understand how people believe, or do not believe, Glenn Beck come to hold those beliefs. The three perspectives on Beck are roughly: people who support Beck, those who oppose Beck and everyone else from people who have never heard of Mr. Beck to those who have heard of him but have not formed an opinion about him. This e-pamphlet is really for this latter group, people seeking to understand Mr. Beck and his followers.


Beginning with Beck's followers, they believe him. A lot of his false claims have been debunked on Media Matters for American, on the News Hounds website, on The Glenn Beck Report and of course here. However, Beck brilliantly undermines his critics to his followers and they end up not trusting us. Who do they trust?  Who do you trust?

The following addresses how people come to trust what they understand to be the truth. It will seem irrelevant initially, but during the discussion about climate change Hayes makes a great point about how people come to trust information. Beck's supporters tend to believe him, and much of what he says is reinforced in the right wing echo chamber. Mr. Beck claims, over and over and over, to tell the truth.  He uses multiple truth slogans including "The truth lives here" for his GBTV which would more accurately be called GB Online. Truth, like beauty, is in the mind of the beholder. Hayes, by the way, is a host on MSNBC, so Beck's followers will automatically dismiss him even though he is not discussing Beck here. They don't trust anyone outside of the right-wing echo chamber because they have been programmed by the right-wing echo chamber to distrust mainstream and liberal media. Their minds have been effectively closed.

The most relevant part of this discussion occurs toward the end of this clip.

People will accept information based upon trust. Those, who trust Glenn Beck, will not read about the debunked lies and other false claims he makes the same way that those, who are critical of his misinformation, propaganda and character flaws, will. People, who know enough about the topics Beck addresses, can tell that he's not conveying accurate information. In fact, it's often misinformation. We know this because we listen to sources that we believe we can trust. Beck (and Fox News) make it very clear to their listeners that they should not trust the "mainstream" media even though Fox is mainstream and; more to the point, they turn around and deceive their audiences with misinformation about Democrats, especially President Obama, climate change and the Occupiers of Wall Street just to select a few topics. Fox is a channel of propaganda disguised as a news channel. One method of misinforming their audiences is to cherry pick information, choosing what reinforces their (usually false) narratives and ignoring information that does not.

Previously here, it was pointed out that the people most open to actual facts about any political topic, or any topic that becomes politicized, are those who are uninformed and non-ideological. This post is an attempt to dig deeper though, to find out what makes us "understand" the "truth." How do we form our reasons for supporting or opposing ideas, even scientific ideas? The following clip, also from Up with Chris Hayes on May 5th, explains this. Unlike the first clip, this gets to the crux of the matter, and it's well worth watching from beginning to end.

If we all form our reasons from our gut feelings, then how are we to stand up against the deceitful propaganda of anyone when people have the capacity for self delusion about straight forward facts? An example of this comes from a post covering an episode from The Glenn Beck Show on Fox after President Obama had ordered the raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. After that successful effort to find and kill the head of al Qaeda, Beck claimed that the operation "contradicted every bit of foreign policy that [Obama has] ever advocated." Unless Beck, then a professional political commentator for CNN, was not watching the debates between McCain and Obama in 2008, he was lying with this assertion. During the third debate, Senator Obama said, "And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden...." Despite that and other comments by candidate Obama explaining that he would do exactly what he did to find bin Laden, an ardent defender of Beck's many false claims, Todd Sheller wrote a comment on that post which states:
Oh... but it did contradict Obama's foreign policy. The information that lead to the raid came from the detention center that was closed during his first year in office, wait no, two years down the road now and Guantanamo Bay is still operating as a detention center for the war on Terrorism. The information was obtained in the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, you remember him, he is the person that is going to have to be tried at that closed detention center, instead of New York.
Todd feels that Beck was right (honest) to make that claim, and he found a reason to defend Beck's blatant, bold-faced lie. Todd cherry-picked a bit of misinformation, widely shared in the right-wing echo chamber, and attempted to turn the reality of President Obama's determination to get bin Laden upside down to make it seem as if Beck did not lie about this, no matter what candidate Obama said he would do.

It's interesting when Beck's followers disagree with Mr. Beck when he is right about a subject. Beck does not always misinform, and he has mocked "birthers," those arguing that President Obama was not born in the United States and is not a legitimate President. This page on Beck's website has many comments from his followers who do not believe that President Obama was born in Hawaii. They want him to affirm their gut feelings.

We live in a world where the media helps shape our understanding of reality. Corresponding to the four basic categories of political values, there are four categories of media: reactionary (World Net Daily, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, etc.), conservative (The National Review, Fox News most of the time), liberal (MSNBC, Truthout, AlterNet) and radical (OWS, New Left Review, World Socialist Web Site, etc.). All sources put their spin on the facts. That is inherent in the human condition. Our struggle, if we are to truly understand our world, is to sort out facts from feelings, what is real from what we want to believe. There is no magic bullet to achieve this.

Ironically, Beck can have the last words on this subject. From his book, Common Sense, he wrote:
"It is not just the political class who has mastered the art of deception. There are other potentially deadly masters who will seek to exploit your frustration and sense of desperation. Many will warn you of government tyranny; they'll talk of secret societies, vast conspiracies, shadow governments, and the need for violent action. I urge you to stay away from these individuals and their ideas."(1)
Sage advice, if only his followers would take it to heart...or gut.

Before more people are taken in by Beck's deceitfulness, 
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1) Common Sense, New York, Threshold Editions, 2009, p. 90.