Don’t Believe Everything You Read
Remember that “news” reporting about a McCain policy adviser who leaked that Sarah Palin thought Africa was a country—not a continent?
Remember how it fed into our beliefs about her lack of Palin’s intellectual heft, reinforced by the way she sounded in media soundbites more like Frances McDormand from Fargo than a traditional politician?
Psychologists call this the “confirmation bias.” It’s a fundamental human tendency to interpret new information so as to confirm one’s existing beliefs—and to discount data that contradict these beliefs. Whether we know what it’s called, we all do it.
Thankfully, we have the impartial, unprejudiced, fact-checking media to keep us as close to objectivity as possible, right??
It turns out that the Africa story—and several other comments and observations from this McCain adviser—were, well … made up.
Yup. News outlets from MSNBC to The New Republic, from The Los Angeles Times to Fox News, fell prey to a simple scam whereby nonexistent McCain adviser "Martin Eisenstadt" offered up juicy tidbits, and reporters bit right in.
The race to be the first to a “story” crushed what was left of journalistic integrity.
Passing on rumor and hearsay as truth—especially when it fits into one’s preexisting notions—is one of the things that pisses me off most about political bloggers. And this story shows mainstream media isn’t immune.
If there’s anything we can learn from this case, it’s this: Think twice before passing on what you hear as “the truth.”
And if by some chance this whole “it’s a hoax” thing turns out, in turn, to be another hoax, let’s all give up and move away.
Let’s go to Africa. I hear it’s a nice country.