Tuesday, March 08, 2005

How The President can and does get away with Murder

It has taken me some time and research energy to finally wrap my mind around this issue. The question is this, how is it that leaders in the past and this president in particular are able to get away with serious crimes to humanity with little or no immediate outcry if any at all? Theft, fraud, torture and even murder of hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of humans on this earth?

After the then presidential candidate clearly stole the election of a super-power, where were the riots? How about when with a very transparent lie, this new Commander in Chief sent thousands of young citizens to their death and sentenced tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians to death and occupation?

Using the Iraq war as an extreme example to highlight this issue, was I the only person in the world who could see through the thinly veiled excuses and cheap distracting spin trickery? Was I the only person who cared not just about our citizens, but all humans including the Iraqis?

Apparently I was a member of a very small group whose members, each with varying degrees of success, were able to ascertain the real truth and be very concerned by it. So what about the others?

Well there is anything but an easy answer to that question. I am not a cognitive scientist or any sort of specialist, however I believe that my overly simple hypothesis is a bit common sense coupled with some recent reading.

The human mind is a very interesting and quite unknown factor in how people behave. First of all, you may have noticed that it takes energy and effort to concentrate. Concentrating is the process of utilizing the services that the brain and mind have to offer to the cognitive thought process. Most humans are able to concentrate completely on one specific task at a time with little effort, however as we begin to muti-task our ability to perform each task becomes diminished and the energy and effort required to process multiple information sources increases.

Now think about your daily life. You are constantly assaulted with multiple pieces of information on multiple subjects each day. Each piece of information is shaped by the people disseminating this information. This shaping is call framing and/or spin if the source is shaping the message and bias if the intermediary such as a reporter or news outlet shapes the message.

In this day and age, the people in US politics are so adept at framing and/or spinning the message that they are able to alter your opinion on an issue without your knowledge. Since we are all very busy these days living our lives, and since we have news "spoon fed" to us everywhere we go, it is no wonder that we take the easy way out and just absorb the framed and spun news that trickles out of our biased media outlets.

More information on framing by George Lakoff is available here.

Now back to our example, the Iraq war. Why did so many people support this war? Was it the news that they were fed? Seven separate polls by The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) in 2003 and 2004, which included 9,611 respondents, and had a margin of error from 2 to 3.5 percent concluded that a majority of Americans held mistaken impressions about the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Three of the most common mistaken impressions were that U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There was clear evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein worked closely with the September 11 terrorists and that People in foreign countries generally either backed the U.S.-led war or were evenly split between supporting and opposing it.

Overall, 60 percent of Americans held at least one of those views in polls reported between January and September by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, based at the University of Maryland in College Park, and the polling firm, Knowledge Networks based in Menlo Park, California.

In fact, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq. U.S. intelligence has found no clear evidence that Saddam was working closely with al-Qaida or was involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks and Gallup polls found large majorities opposed to the war in most countries.

Analysis also points to the correlation between the news source and the misconceptions. 80 Percent of those who said they relied on Fox News and 71 percent of those who said they relied on CBS believed at least one of the three misconceptions. The comparable figures were 47 percent for those who said they relied most on newspapers and magazines and 23 percent for those who said they relied on PBS or National Public Radio.

Susan Moeller, a University of Maryland professor, said that much reporting had consisted of "stenographic coverage of government statements" with less attention to whether the government's statements were accurate.

Among those with one of the three misconceptions, 53 percent supported the war. Among those with two, 78 percent supported it. Among those with three, 86 percent backed it. By contrast, less than a quarter of those polled who had none of the misconceptions backed the war.

To review the study, go to http://www.pipa.org

In conclusion, "stenographic coverage of government statements" or Framing coupled with different news organization bias led to inaccurate perceptions by the public and the steady march to war.

Question Everything or Blame Yourself When Things Go Wrong!