Friday, April 9, 2010

Lies & Tea Parties

Last Christmas I was at my folk's house in Portland (Oregon, not Maine...) when my dad was watching a YouTube video in which some "Tea Party" guys were saying some really astoundingly idiotic things.  It was strange though...  The people in the video did something that struck me as rather suspicious, so I pointed out that it was unlikely that the guys in it were actually affiliated with the Tea Parties, since they used the word "tea bagger" to describe themselves.

For those of you who are unaware... "Tea bagger" is actually a derogatory term used by immature and mediocre "journalists", like Rachel Maddow to lay a blanket insult over the tea party movement.  It's most certainly not something that these folks would ever use to describe themselves.

Trouble is... A lot of people, including my dad, have biases that prejudice them towards believing the stuff said about the Tea Party movement in mainstream news.  At the time, I was merely voicing a suspicion, but I suspect I was more right at that time than I even really knew... For instance, today, I just learned of a little group devoted to producing exactly that kind of misinformation:

Here's an organization that's designed itself to infiltrate the tea party movement and find ways to make it look bad on TV.  They have a little mission statement, in which they note that their goal is:

"Whenever possible we will act on behalf of the Tea Party in ways which exaggerate their least appealing qualities (misspelled protest signs, wild claims in TV interviews, etc.) to further distance them from mainstream America and damage the public's opinion of them."

I think this is pretty telling though, in a lot of ways... 

Much like the recent accusations of racial/homophobic slurs that have yet to be backed up by a single piece of photographic or video evidence, I think we have a situation where people are trying to discredit these organizations by lying about them and picking the worst (non-representative) parts and pretending that they're the mainstream. It's kind of a weird form of ad hominem, but what's irritating about this to me is how effective it is and how easy it is for most people who just watch TV news to believe it.

What sort of bothers me from a broader perspective is the tendency for so many actors in modern public discourse to resort to these kinds of tactics instead of actually debating anyone.  The bulk of the media that gets produced any more tends to operate based on a series of ad hominems, strawmen and red herring fallacies (to say the least).

Instead of being honest and open about everyone's beliefs, so much time is spent trying to manipulate people into hating "the other side".

The guys who are running the show at "Crash the Tea Party" claim that they're "sick and tired of that loose affiliation of racists, homophobes & morons; who constitute the fake grass-roots movement which calls itself the Tea Party".  But if the Tea Party really was just an affiliation of racists, homophobes & morons, then it shouldn't be very hard to get real media coverage of them as such, right?  If they were really all that this website claims, then the "crashers" wouldn't need to resort to lies and deception to state their case, would they?

This kind of thing happens a lot more than people realize though, largely because reporters are generally gullible and don't really care too much about fact-checking anymore... So how hard is it to just say something racist on camera and claim you're a part of the group?  People like my dad already want to believe that the Tea Partier's are racists and that the movement is more about the President being black than it is about the espoused hot-button issues of expanding government power, excessive taxation & massive, unsustainable deficits. Portraying these people as racists is just a way to meet a lot of people's existing confirmation bias.

And quite honestly, it's easier for a lot of people to whitewash the anti-government crowd with insults and ad hominem attacks than it is to deal with the reality of the problems they are discussing.

$100 Trillion deficits aren't a palatable topic for the average citizen who would really like to believe their wonderful country has been run by benevolent people who know what they're doing.  It's pretty hard for a lot of people to even consider the idea that there are consequences ins store for the US that are actually predictable.  Lest we not forget, when Peter Schiff was sounding alarms on the economy, he was busy being laughed at.

So instead of dealing with the real issues, and instead of having an honest debate about ideas in this country, we have people who are far happier to just discredit their opponents with dirty tactics and lies...  I'm sick and tired of that.

Anyway... Mostly this is just something to take stock of, and seems as good a reminder as any that you can't believe everything you read or see on TV.

Worthy advice, if you ask me.

*Disclaimer: This essay is not invalidated by the fact that people from all political persuasions use strawmen... So please, let's not hear any whining about how "they do it too!"*

No comments: