So many conspiracy theories, so few facts

"Hey, we’re makin’ history here, we’re makin’ real history here," said a legislator talking about Congress and inadvertently echoing Dustin Hoffman’s "I’m walkin’ here, I’m walkin’ here" line in the movie "Midnight Cowboy.”

Well, uh, sure. We’re all making history, most of which, thankfully, will not be recorded or remembered. But maybe the operative word is "real" history.

Why, recently, are so many Americans being taken in by conspiracy theories? Why are so many denying real history?

As the nation recalled the splashdown of the rocket that landed on the moon in 1969, there was another wave of sentiment that the moon landing was just a government hoax. Honest-to-goodness scientists were dragged before cable TV cameras to insist, earnestly, that the moon landing had really happened.

Even among tourists flocking to the National Air and Space Museum to see the moon rocks, one non-believer was overheard saying the rocks were clearly fakes.

Good grief, folks! People who think the government spent millions of dollars and years of effort on a hoax that was kept secret for decades are just nuts. The government isn’t capable of keeping secrets like that.

Then there was the wave of hysteria that President Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii, is not a U.S. citizen and thus is not the legitimate president. There were even legislators on Capitol Hill trying to pass a bill that all presidential candidates must provide the public with copies of their birth certificates. Legislators who insisted the president is a citizen were ridiculed by their constituents.

Zounds, people! The president’s birth certificate was held up on TV over and over again. The so-called "birthers," who insist they are still not convinced of the president’s citizenship, are self-deluded nincompoops.

During the health care "reform" debate, which, friends, is only going to get more heated, complicated and murky, a rumor raced around the country that people on Medicare would be required to see a government representative to talk about how they want to die.

Somewhat bemused, Obama said there really aren’t enough government employees to carry out such a mandate. It turns out that there is a proposal floating on Capitol Hill — a proposal — that Medicare pay for advisers for people interested in learning how to set up living wills.

What’s going on here? Part of it is our fascination with suspense movies and TV thrillers such as "24." There have been so many shows depicting bureaucrats and political leaders as manipulative conspirators that people believe they’re real. They should be forced to spend a day walking the halls of the Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration.

A more serious reason is the nasty politicization of government. Instead of having an adult conversation about the appalling state of health care in America and weighing options to fix it, we will spend August screaming at each other: Democrats defending schemes that have no chance of passage; Republicans organizing a month of scare tactics, such as telling the elderly they must sit down with government agents to plan their deaths.

Historian Margaret MacMillan in her book, "Dangerous Games," ponders the uses and abuses of history. She notes every culture misuses history for comfort and nationalism or to justify treating others badly and to bolster arguments for a current policy.

She recalled a story told by writer Susan Jacoby who on Sept. 11, 2001, overheard two men talking in New York. "This is just like Pearl Harbor," one said. "What is Pearl Harbor?" the other asked. "That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War," the first man replied.

History often does not offer the right solution but it helps us ask the right questions. But it has to be "real" history. We have to be smart enough not to be led astray by crazy conspiracy theories.

MacMillan says her advice about history is "use it, enjoy it, but always handle history with care."

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)

11 Responses to "So many conspiracy theories, so few facts"

  1. giving-up-in-nc  July 31, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    When it comes to critical thinking a large percentage of people are quite simply stupid. There’s no other way to put it. Many people simply take gossip or outrageous statements as truths and make no attempt at checking on their validity for themselves.

    What makes this situation worse is that political news reporting now is mostly just presenting both sides of an argument as equals no matter how outrageous one sides statements may be.

    For example, flat out lies are being made daily about Canada’s health care system in an effort to prevent something like it being implemented in the U.S.

    The lies are then simply repeated by the news media and believed by a large percentage of the US population. All it takes is a bit of online research to expose them for the falsehoods they are, but few people inside or outside the media are willing to make the effort to research the subject to find out what the truth is.

    It is a truly sad, sad, state of affairs that we now find ourselves in.

  2. oceanika  August 1, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Some sort of conspiracy or hare-brained rumor comes in the email everyday. One minute of fact checking would disprove every one of them but some would rather spend the time forwarding it to their 100 closest “friends”. Sooner or later, the obvious errors get pointed out, resulting in egg-on-the-face for those who fell for the stories.

    Something very similar happens in forums like this. A poster, in his zeal to make his point, will sometines make reference to a internet source, as “proof”. Too often it’s just as erroneous as an email rumor. Good journalism and common sense, teaches us to check our sources, lest we loose credibility.

    Posting comments in forums like this should be an act of untangling the facts from the propoganda. We can, in good faith, hold different opinions, but opinions are not facts. Honest opinions, supported by falsehoods, diminish the whole enterprise.

  3. woody188  July 31, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    The government isn’t capable of keeping secrets like that.

    What like the rape and torture of our prisoners of the war on terror that started in 2001 and is ongoing today?

    Or the illegal spying on Americans that has been going on since at least 2001 and continues to this day?

    The Bush presidency proves that you can have thousands of government and military people involved in a conspiracy against the people and the Constitution and they can keep it quiet for years and perhaps decades.

    To insist they aren’t capable is naive and dangerous at best, and dishonest and misleading at worst. Not surprising coming from a mainstream news source like good ole’ Ann McExcuses for the govmint.

    If it was not for the internet we would still mostly not know anything about the two examples above because they do not discuss it on corporate television or newspapers.

    *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
    R U Main Core?

  4. gazelle1929  August 1, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    But. But. But. Since we know about them doesn’t that mean that the Government was NOT capable of keeping them secret?

    Like the torture. Seems to me the whole thing started to unravel as soon as the first batch of military rotated back stateside.

    As to your last point, both of those “revelations” were all over the news channels and the newspapers.

  5. woody188  August 1, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    We didn’t know the extent of the torture or how high up it went. It wasn’t until 2005, 4 years into it, that they told us it was just some low level deviants like Lyndie England and certainly wasn’t their policy. Now, after another 4 years, we find out it was policy and Bush and Cheney both knew about it and lied about it all along. So for 8 years they were able to cover up portions of how they ordered the rape and torture of prisoners.

    Tell me gazelle, which tv stations and newpapers covered the rape of prisoners children while the prisoners were forced to watch instead of concentrating on the least offensive torture method known as waterboarding?

    Same thing with the wiretaps and internet monitoring of US citizens. We still don’t know the extent of it, only that it happens. And we didn’t find out about it until 2005, again 4 years after it started. Prior to that folks like yourself claimed it wasn’t happening and bullied people claiming it was by calling them crazy foil hat wearing conspiracy nuts.

    Bush claimed at the time it was only conversations overseas. Then we learn no, it’s all calls, emails, and even search engine data and they are collecting it on everyone including innocent US citizens. Here it is 8 years later and we still don’t know what is happening with all this data and what it is being used for. (MAIN CORE?)

    Michael Jackson’s death has received more attention from the corporate media than has torture and illegal wiretapping ordered by the Bush Administration and continued under Obama’s watch. That is part of the reason corporate media is losing viewers by the millions to the internet. We know they are liars and that they work to maintain the current paradigm. There is no denying it now.

    Were it not for the internet we probably would never have found out any of these things. It would be hazy like Iran-Contra, Kennedy’s assassination, the USS Liberty incident, the attempt on Reagan’s life, and other incidents through out history that changed our nation.

  6. gazelle1929  August 2, 2009 at 10:39 am

    So if we read about it on the internet it must perforce be true. And this is so because we know deep in our hearts that our Government is Satan in disguise, doing his evil worst to make us into his minions.

    But back to the question you did not answer:

    Doesn’t the fact that we know about these things mean that the Government is incapable of keeping them a secret? For example, if there really does exist a video or audio tape recording the rape of children, why has it not been leaked to the public? Note, I am not asking whether the purported existence of the tape has been leaked to the public, I am asking about the tape itself. Perhaps it is so because such tape does not exist, but that there are people who, for whatever reason, are willing to make up stuff like this.

    Also, you make this allegation concerning illegal wiretapping:

    “Then we learn no, it’s all calls, emails, and even search engine data and they are collecting it on everyone including innocent US citizens.”

    Can you reveal where you got this? ALL calls? Everyone? All 300 million of us? I will be up front. I don’t believe you can show me a reputable source.

    But beyond that, even if they were, it is difficult to imagine just how much data this is. Even more unimaginable is how the hell anyone is going to make use of this data, if it really does exist. And it is stretches credulity that there exist data farms capable of holding such vast amounts of data.

    But I’ll settle just for a citation to a half-way reliable source for your statement quoted above.

  7. woody188  August 3, 2009 at 3:54 am

    So if we read about it on the internet it must perforce be true. And this is so because we know deep in our hearts that our Government is Satan in disguise, doing his evil worst to make us into his minions.

    You said this, I NEVER DID.

    I have sources I trust and others I don’t. So happens I find many online sources more trust worthy in these times than corporate news media. SO?

    Doesn’t the fact that we know about these things mean that the Government is incapable of keeping them a secret?

    Sure if you ignore the fact they have kept it secret and portions are still secret going on 8 years. You act like there has been some type of full disclosure. We know JFK was assassinated, but do we really know about JFK’s assassination?

    Perhaps it is so because such tape does not exist, but that there are people who, for whatever reason, are willing to make up stuff like this.

    I don’t know why Seymour Hersh would make something like this up. You are also ignoring a fact we do know, that the CIA destroyed their tapes. If they were innocent, those tapes would have exonerated the CIA. Do innocent people purposefully destroy the evidence that would prove their innocence?

    Can you reveal where you got this? ALL calls? Everyone? All 300 million of us? I will be up front. I don’t believe you can show me a reputable source.

    Of course I can. Though I might not have used The New American except they have the MSNBC video embedded there to back them up.

    Makes for dramatic commentary claiming 300 million of us couldn’t be monitored like that at once which is true statement. But it’s a misleading argument for someone claiming to be “up front,” and honestly I don’t care what you believe. I’m not here to convince you, only to post what I know and hope others will listen.

    The real truth is it could be any of us at any time, not everyone all the time. I NEVER SAID it was everyone all the time, again something you have made up out of thin air.

    But beyond that, even if they were, it is difficult to imagine just how much data this is. Even more unimaginable is how the hell anyone is going to make use of this data, if it really does exist. And it is stretches credulity that there exist data farms capable of holding such vast amounts of data.

    I said I don’t know what they are doing with the data or where or even how they are storing it. My best guess is Main Core which you can find a link to in some of my other posts. Again you are trying to put words in my mouth that I did not say. That makes you the one stretching credulity in an attempt to make a point.

    It would be nice in the future if you brought some thing to the discussion instead of snide remarks. Attempting to allude that the opposition to your position is some kind of liar or crazy probably isn’t the best strategy to formulate a convincing argument. It does tend to make for a juicy read and certainly satisfies some delusional urge to try to put down others when faced with things your mind won’t allow you to comprehend.

    If you can’t argue your position on it’s merits all you have is mud slinging, character assassination, and lies. Just in this post alone you twisted things claiming I’ve said totally absolute black and white things that clearly I did not. I rarely speak in absolutes. It is a huge sign of someone playing fast and free with the truth.

    So last chance, if you really are interested in discussion, back to my question you did not answer:
    “Tell me gazelle, which tv stations and newpapers covered the rape of prisoners children while the prisoners were forced to watch instead of concentrating on the least offensive torture method known as waterboarding?”

    See in a debate, you have to be able to defend your position, not just attack others positions. So where is your evidence that the government is giving us full disclosure on torture and wiretapping gazelle since you “know” all about it?

    Click here for a hint.

  8. gazelle1929  August 3, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    You said previously:

    “Bush claimed at the time it (the systematic wiretapping of US citizens) was only conversations overseas. Then we learn no, it’s all calls, emails, and even search engine data and they are collecting it on everyone including innocent US citizens.”

    I asked for your citation to that, and you replied, look at this website, where I find:

    “Tice, who worked for the NSA as an analyst for nearly 20 years, said in an interview conducted by MSNBC that ‘NSA had access to all American’s communications, faxes, phone calls, and their computer communications,’ regardless of their location or whether or not they made foreign communications.”

    Having access to a set of communications is not the same thing as actually recording or wiretapping. Tice does not say that the conversations, etc., were recorded, he said only that NSA had access to them; there is an implication there that they could have recorded them in real time, but nowhere do I see where he says they did so. This was very nicely framed, in my opinion, to be as inflammatory as possible without being fully forthright.

    I stand by what I said. I see no proof that “they are collecting (communications) on everyone including US citizens.” “Collecting” to me means that they are actually recording.

  9. gazelle1929  August 3, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Oh. I forgot.

    As to why Seymour Hersch would make up something like that, I commend this story to you from New York Magazine:

    http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/people/features/11719/

    Why would he make something up? Perhaps because he likes the feel of his lips slapping together:

    “Sometimes I change events, dates, and places in a certain way to protect people,” Hersh told me. “I can’t fudge what I write. But I can certainly fudge what I say.”

    And perhaps because he gets as much as $15,000 for a speech and they only reason people keep paying him that is to hear something “new.” But perhaps not quite true.

  10. woody188  August 3, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Here is what Tice said:

    In one of the operations he was involved in, he recalled, NSA “looked at organizations just supposedly so that we would not target them, so that we knew where they were as to not have a problem with them.” Over time he said he grew to doubt that rationale as the justification for the program because it did not stop there and “collection on those organizations was 24/7 and 365 days a year, and it made no sense.”

    You know he’s talking about peace and human rights activists don’t you? Probably the ACLU!

    Cherry picking passages from the links I provide is very misleading as well.

    Hey great link for Hersh. Only serves to strengthen Hersh’s credibility. And it’s a good thing he isn’t the only one making those claims. Can’t really say you are looking for the truth if you single source it. I just wonder why you can’t seem to use Google to find these things for yourself.

    You have a great talent at attacking the messengers, but have yet to refute the message. Why can’t you answer my questions like I answer yours?

  11. numan  August 2, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Perhaps there are so many conspiracy theories because there are many conspiracies!

    Where there are power and wealth, there are conspiracies: this is a fact of history!

    The Lincoln Assassination, the sinking of the Maine, Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination, 9/11 all are surrounded by questions which people in power and the educated establishment have been very careful to investigate superficially or not at all.

    There is a French term for this: “trahison des clercs”, the betrayal of intellectual honesty by the educated classes — a vice which has become Standard Operating Procedure in the USA.

    “…truth-telling … is not possible in a highly organized zoo like the United States, where the best cuts are flung to those who never question the zoo’s management.”
    — Gore Vidal

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