The fact is that facts have pretty much ceased to matter in America’s political discourse.
Believe what you want
That little reality, of course, shouldn’t shock anyone at this point.
But a new study by the non-partisan National Bureau of Economic Research suggests the intellectual rot goes much further. As a starting point, the authors employed the truism about people believing what they want to believe.
“Republicans,” it notes on the first page, “are more likely than Democrats to say that the deficit rose during the Clinton administration; Democrats are more likely to believe that inflation rose under Reagan.” (Both assertions are untrue.)
The researchers, professors from Yale and the University of California, then offered panels of political partisans financial incentives to tell the truth.
Lo and behold, their answers became much more factual. And the gaps between their political worldviews narrowed considerably.
What that means is that contemporary political discourse is even worse than it appears; political partisans actually know when they’re relying on falsehoods to buttress their beliefs — and will let go of them if there’s personal profit in it.
Given that, writes Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab, the work of reporters trying to set the record straight is probably having the opposite of its intended effect.
Instead of accomplishing that, he writes, journalists may instead be “raising the stakes of a partisan battle and can engender a hardening of incorrect beliefs.”
So, setting out facts in a neutral fashion in the belief you are helping democracy instead plays into the hands of self-aware partisans who treasure their own delusions.
Think about the implications of that.
Does the broad public here in fact believe the U.S. military has become a haven for sexual predators and just not care? Does the American far right secretly believe climate change really is caused by humans?
In Canada, do Stephen Harper and his most partisan supporters actually think, down deep, that Israel may actually bear some of the blame for its troubles with the Palestinians? Do New Democrats secretly think that the oil sands pipeline might be a sensible idea? (Better than, say, shipping the stuff by tanker?)
Such layers within layers are almost too depressing to contemplate.
If the Yale professors are right, this whole journalism racket may be pointless. Those of us who try to do our job properly are just dupes.
There’s more money to be made working for Big Tobacco. At least in that game, people don’t kid themselves about what they’re accomplishing.
The best part of Neil’s op-ed piece is the last half. Some excellent food for thought. :)
Probably the saddest and most disgusting thing Neil said was that the truth is there but you - literally - have to *pay* people in order for them to divulge the truth! Unless someone feels they will gain something out of it, they won’t divulge the truth. I know politics is a shitty game a-holes play; but I hadn’t realized we’d sunk to such lows, either! The fact that we have become such a *selfish* society is quite disturbing! :(