Time magazine rolls over and dies!


Sympathy for the birther:
Yesterday morning, the New York Times published a report on the subject of false belief.

Many, many people have said that Brendan Nyhan learned everything he knows from us. Modestly, we don't make an opinion on that.

That said, Nyhan teamed with Amanda Taub for a news analysis piece which bore this headline:

"Why People Continue to Believe Objectively False Things"

Given the lunacy of our discourse, this topic would seem important. At one point, the reporters discussed the granddaddy of them all—the objectively false belief that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States.

The writers described the way false beliefs tend to regain their strength in the months and years after they've been refuted. Mainly, we were struck by the overall numbers in this passage:
TAUB AND NYHAN (3/22/17): Mr. Trump disavowed the “birther” myth in September 2016, conceding that Mr. Obama was in fact born in Hawaii. There was an increase afterward in the number of voters who said they believed Mr. Obama was born in the United States, but polling by Morning Consult suggests that part of that effect has already faded. In September, it found that 62 percent of registered voters said they believed Mr. Obama had been born in the United States, but in a follow-up poll early this month, that number had dropped to 57 percent.

This decline cannot be attributed simply to partisan bias; it occurred among both Democrats (who went to 77 percent from 82 percent) and Republicans (down to 36 percent from 44 percent).
In the survey taken this month, 57 percent of respondents said Obama was born in the United States.

In that same survey, 26 percent of respondents said he wasn't born in the U.S. An additional 17 percent said they didn't know.

(Is this an artefact of slobbering racism? Eighteen percent of black respondents said Obama wasn't born in the U.S.; 13 percent said they didn't know.)

Objectively, the fact that Obama was born in Hawaii has been settled. As such, this looks like the granddaddy of them all when it comes to contemporary false beliefs.

That makes Time magazine's interview with Donald J. Trump the latest remarkable bit of avoidance concerning the gentleman's history as king of the birthers.

Time's interview focuses on Trump's assortment of bogus claims. The magazine bills its lengthy report on Trump as "a cover story about the way he has handled truth and falsehood in his career."

The way he has handled truth and falsehood in his career? Strikingly, Michael Scherer never asked about Trump's birther claims during his interview. Trump's birtherism was only fleetingly mentioned in Scherer's cover report.

During the interview, Scherer never asked about the investigators Trump said he sent to Hawaii. He never asked about the mind-boggling, undisclosed facts Trump said his gumshoes had found.

He never asked if there had been such gumshoes, or if it had all been a lie.

Politely, Scherer ducked this topic in his interview, as many before him had done. Once again, it's stunning to see the way our upper-end "press corps" actually handles such tasks.

Before this, the biggest act of "birther avoidance" may have belonged to the New York Times. Last July, the paper did a lengthy, front-page Sunday report about Trump's birtherism. But they never asked Trump or his associates if he had simply been lying when he said he sent those investigators to Hawaii.

In the summer of 2015, the entire press corps took a dive. After Trump announced his presidential campaign, he told a few interviewers that he was no longer willing to discuss birtherism.

The entire press corps crawled away and took a nap in the woods. Basically, Trump was never asked about this topic again until the campaign was almost done.

Our upper-end, mainstream "press corps" is Potemkin all the way down. This is a fascinating, remarkable fact about our highly Potemkin culture.

Our press corps is phony/faux all the way down. Will someone alert Kevin Drum?

Also this: Has any journalistic or academic org ever interviewed survey respondents about this topic? What would all those people say about where they think Obama was born?

This is the grand-daddy of them all in the realm of modern bogus belief. Our big news orgs and our academics have chosen to take it in stride.

Nothing to look at, boys and girls! Children! Please keep moving!


  1. That article seems to imply that it's objectively false that Obama wiretapped Trump. While I personally believe that claim is false, it's not objectively false. Even if Comey had denied that claim, he might have been wrong or even lying.

    But, Comey said something weaker. He merely said that his investigation hadn't turned up evidence supporting Trump's claim.

    1. Trump makes stuff up. It is idiocy to treat everything that Trump makes up as if it were possibly true. It wastes the public's time and mind share. The burden of proof has to be the other way around. He has earned that.

  2. Trump is Toasted like 'smores. Orange is the new Black.

    Ben Franklin

  3. How is something "objectively settled"? What is the standard for "proof"?

    Taking the example of Obama's birth. I know that I, myself, have not seen any proof of where he was born. Further, if I was to somehow see a birth certificate, how would I know if it was forged or otherwise faked? I have read statements, if memory serves, from some Hawaii officials, but how do I know that those people are not part of a conspiracy?

    Many, if not all, of the things we believe are based on faith and reputation. Somebody says so, who has authority and credibility, and we accept it as true. Most of us accept that the Pythagorean theorem is true, not because we can prove it, but because teachers and math professors say that it is, and we have faith in those vested authorities.

    Most of us also do not give a crap one way or another. There has not been a political battle over the issue of the truth of the Pythagorean theorem. There has been over Obama's place of birth. Thus people have gotten dug in and have read or heard people making claims that Obama was not born in the US and claims to the contrary are lies or forgeries, etc. and it is all part of a vast left wing conspiracy to hide the truth.

    Anecdotally, it seems to me that the state can be just as silly as we the people. In 1994 I was applying for a driver's license in Wisconsin. I had an expired license from South Dakota which established my birth date and place of birth. The bureaucrat, however, would not accept that, even though it included a picture of me from 1984. Instead I had to pay $10 to write to my home state and get a birth record from them.

    The funny thing is that anybody from Adam Ant to ZZ Top could have paid the $10 and gotten that record and pretended to be me. It's not like it came with a picture, but they accepted that as proof rather than a photo ID.

    People accept proof not always for rational reasons, especially when they have something they WANT to be true, or some kind of vested interest or skin in the game.

    1. Years ago, I read a letter to the editor in the Arizona Republic by a women who had been born in Tucson.
      She moved to Colorado and exchanged her Arizona driver's license for a Colorado one.
      Years later she moved back to Arizona and was told by the clerk at DMV that the Colorado license was insufficient proof of identity. She was told to bring a birth certificate.
      She dutifully went to the Pima County Recorder's Office and asked for a copy of her birth certificate. The clerk asked for proof of ID. When the woman asked what document she needed to produce, she was told her driver's license would do.

      Years ago, my buddy bought a race car. It was delivered from another state, and the trailer was included in the sale. When he went to get a tag for the trailer, he was told to produce the bill of sale. The bill of sale for the race car did not mention the trailer. He asked what he would have to do if he built his own trailer. The clerk said he should write down "Home Built" on the application.
      He thanked the clerk, wrote 'Home Built' on the application and went to a different window and got his tags.
      Of course, these are not examples of methodologies for arriving at the truth, but merely examples of bureaucratic doublethink.
      The issue of what people believe about Obama’s birthplace (and an expanding universe of other "facts") can been explained, if one wishes to accept it, by the concept of the “Illusion of Truth”.
      The illusion-of-truth effect states that a person is more likely to believe a familiar statement than an unfamiliar one. In a 1977 experiment participants were asked to read 60 plausible statements every two weeks and to rate them based on their validity. A few of those statements (some of them true, others false) were presented more than once in different sessions. Results showed that participants were more likely to rate as true statements they had previously heard (even if they didn't consciously remember having heard them), regardless of the actual validity of the statement.
      Incidentally, in case a few of you have experienced this, the act of refuting these illusions serves only to reinforce them.
      "What is Truth?" asked Pilate.

  4. This is the grand-daddy of them all in the realm of modern bogus belief. Our big news orgs and our academics have chosen to take it in stride.

    Can The Howler give us the entire list of "modern bogus beliefs" so we can decide for ourselves which one is the grand-daddy of them all?

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