Thursday, December 17, 2009
How lies that work...work
Lots of people will believe complete fabrications from political operatives. But only under certain conditions:
1. The lie has to be part of a plausible narrative--a story that supplies motive, means, opportunity, and a timeline.
2. You have to hear it repeated a zillion times, from multiple sources.
3. It has to dovetail with your worldview.
4. It has to appeal to your more juvenile instincts.
5. It has to trigger powerful emotions--especially the ones the average chimpanzee also experiences.
6. The lie's envelope of justification has to provide you with cover (i.e., you can't hate Obama because he's a Negro--but you can hate him if you can say it's because he's a foreigner who holds office illegally).
7. Usually the lie stands on the shoulders of other lies that have already been established in your head.
8. It has to forestall your listening--actually listening--to refutations of the lie. This is usually done by claiming that anyone debunking the lie belongs to the enemy tribe, and because therefore his motives must be bad, you don't have to pay attention to his logic or his facts.
9. It helps if the lie appropriates the other side's language. Thus attacks on climate change by human activity often call climate warming proofs "junk science" when it's the denial that's the junk science.
10. And it also helps if the lie is part of a cascade of related lies. You put out Lie A and the media pick it up and run with it for a week or two; meanwhile investigative reporters are digging for data. But the moment they start to publish their fact-checking refutations, you come out with Lie B. Stir and repeat as needs. For example the "Obama's not American" campaign went though a series of morphs in this manner.
11. For the most vile lies, have people with no known connection to your party promulgate them, while Party leadership says well, they don't know, but where there's smoke there's fire, and we must investigate this "controversy." Then if the lie is successfully debunked, you can claim clean hands, Pontius Pilate-style.
12. If anyone calls you on your lie, fly into a rage at the manner in which the person called you on it. Sean Hannity is particularly adept at this--maybe it's an Irish thing. Then attack the truth-teller's motives. Make the debate personal and tribal, so that a viewer feels like he'd be betraying his political tribe by giving in.
Political lies are carefully crafted to satisfy all these requirements, then disseminated through sophisticated campaigns, with the lie's envelope shaped to fit the venue--academic types to push it on PBS, rabble rousers to do same on Fox, with further shaping for demographic slices like fundamentalist Christians, or, for the left, the more Luddite Greens, say.