Over at the LA Times, Andrew Malcolm asks, “Why do one-in-five American voters now believe Osama bin Laden is still alive?“
This incredulity phenomenon is a curious creation of a high-speed global media so full of unverified and unverifiable information floating about, combined with a modern cynicism about political leaders masquerading as voter wisdom.
After so many lies and misleading claims by politicians over the decades since the Kennedy assassination and its conspiracy theories (“I am not a crook” “I did not have sex with that woman”), the safest way to look wise and experienced these days is to dismiss virtually any public official’s statement as a talking point and/or lie.
The widespread arrival of television some 60 years ago and more recently online video has trained people to expect some kind of visual confirmation of virtually any news, either live or shortly after. Its absence almost surely spawns doubts.
President Obama watched the raid live via satellite and has seen the photos. Because he himself was convinced of Bin Laden’s death, the president deemed providing visual — albeit allegedly gruesome — photographic proof to any doubting fellow Americans was unnecessary. The people could take his word for it.
…Operating in a longtime one-party city like Chicago, Democratic politicians do not often feel beholden to explaining themselves to the obedient public. So, the lesson this president from there obviously drew from his unnecessary birth certificate-sealing confrontation was to do it again with the Bin Laden photos.
Number one, there’s a lot of truth to the “cynicism” angle Malcolm discusses.
The thinking for a lot of people who buy into conspiracy theories works basically like so: Have you seen how the President from the other party behaves? He’s a rotten, lying son-of-a-b*tch! He’s capable of anything! Therefore, it’s as likely as not that he’s really the one responsible for X, Y, and Z. I mean, I don’t know FOR SURE that he did it, but he’s a bad guy and I wouldn’t put anything past him!
Then, after they conclude that he’s responsible because he’s such a bad guy, they go out and find evidence to support their contention. That may sound like a poorly thought out, backwards way to think, but it’s actually very common. In fact, you probably do it yourself in certain areas without realizing it. Think about sports fans, parents talking about their children, or a discussion with your boss about whether you deserve a raise or not.
See? More common than you thought.
But, some people take it to an extreme — which brings us to the second factor, one discussed rather crudely in the South Park episode, “Mystery of the Urinal Deuce.”
Kyle: Anybody who thinks 9/11 was a conspiracy is a retard.
Cartman: Oh, really? Well, did you know that over one-fourth of people in America think that 9/11 was a conspiracy? Are you saying that one-fourth of Americans are retards?
Kyle: Yes, I’m saying one-fourth of Americans are retards.
Stan: Yeah, at least one-fourth.
Dumb people, crazy people, uneducated people — somebody has to be at the bottom of the curve, folks. Who do you think falls for those lame Nigerian scams and keeps the Fushigi Magic Gravity Ball company in business? Let’s just say that there’s probably a lot of overlap with the hardcore conspiracy crowd there and it explains a lot.