Setting the record straight

What’s an American Muslim to say to Herman Cain?” Dilshad D. Ali asks, struggling with how best to respond to the nasty anti-Muslim rants of the Republican presidential candidate.

What makes this debate even trickier is that even though many American Muslims feel compelled to provide a sane, intelligent response when faced with anti-Islamic rhetoric, Cain and others like him are not interested in conversing with Muslims at all. They aren’t talking to us. They’re just talking about us, and if we talk back, they won’t listen.

… Are we left completely outside of the conversation about us?

Ali points to Sheila Musaji’s post, “Herman Cain Needs to Read the Constitution of the U.S.,” which includes a compilation of some of Cain’s more appalling statements.

Just as bad as Cain’s litany of bigoted ignorance there is this, from Christianity Today’s Trevor Persaud: “Is there anything else you’d like to say?”

That is the entirety of Persaud’s follow-up to Cain’s previous statement, which was this:

Based upon the little knowledge that I have of the Muslim religion, you know, they have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them.

Based upon the little knowledge that I have of Herman Cain’s knowledge of the Muslim religion, I’d say the man has no idea what he’s talking about. But CT didn’t feel the need either to correct Cain’s false assertions, or to press him further to force him to defend them.

Journalism 101: Allowing falsehoods to go unchallenged and uncorrected is not morally, ethically or professionally distinct from telling such falsehoods yourself.

At A Few Things Illconsidered, Coby Beck points to a recent study that helps explain why the above principle is such an important journalistic rule — albeit an often-violated one:

An article titled “Setting the record straight almost impossible” describes a new study from the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review by Ullrich Ecker and colleagues from the University of Western Australia that shows just how insidiously difficult it is to remove misinformation once it is planted in the mind.

From the abstract of the study:

Information that is presumed to be true at encoding but later on turns out to be false (i.e., misinformation) often continues to influence memory and reasoning. In the present study, we investigated how the strength of encoding and the strength of a later retraction of the misinformation affect this continued influence effect. … Results suggest that stronger retractions are effective in reducing the continued influence effects associated with strong misinformation encoding, but that even strong retractions fail to eliminate continued influence effects associated with relatively weak encoding.

Reacting to the finding that even a strong retraction will “fail to eliminate continued influence effects,” Beck says, “I don’t know if I have ever seen a strong retraction!”

In 10 years at a daily newspaper, I only saw one. An article on a local philanthropist reported her age. The article reported her age accurately, but the paper still issued a strong retraction and an apology. Flowers were sent. (No, really, our editor sent flowers.)

Beck also notes this, from the article, as grounds for some meager hope:

The researchers explain that this effect has implications for a number of real-world scenarios, such as the avoidance of MMR vaccine due to fears over autism, or when jurors are called upon to discount the last witness testimony or disregard evidence.

“If you make them [jurors] suspicious of why that information was presented in the first place, such as by saying it was a deliberate attempt to mislead you, then they can more readily dismiss it,” says Ecker.

“Also, if you explain to people that corrected misinformation will continue to influence their thinking to a larger extent than most of us are aware of, that can also help to reduce the effects of the misinformation.”

One other factor that seems to have been beyond the scope of this study is the effect of relationship and personal contact. When the source of an “encoded” bit of misinformation is an impersonal and abstract authority, but the source of the correction is someone you know, I would guess that the correction proves to be much more effective in countering those “continued influence effects” of the misinformation.

And that brings us back to a point Ali makes, that it is dangerous and destructive to talk about others without also talking with those others — without allowing them to be part of the conversation and thus to cease to be “those others.”

That’s another ingredient in the “recipe for perpetual ignorance” we discussed recently. “Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge,” that recipe said.

And, we could add, “Don’t ever listen to the people you’re talking about.”

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  • Izzy

    Oh, sure. But at that point, there’s really nothing I can do to get through to them, so I might as well not waste the energy trying *not* to hate them. 

  • Izzy

    Oh, sure. But at that point, there’s really nothing I can do to get through to them, so I might as well not waste the energy trying *not* to hate them. 

  • Izzy

    Oh, sure. But at that point, there’s really nothing I can do to get through to them, so I might as well not waste the energy trying *not* to hate them. 

  • Izzy

    Oh, sure. But at that point, there’s really nothing I can do to get through to them, so I might as well not waste the energy trying *not* to hate them. 

  • Lori

     We were talking just the other day about how awful the current presidential candidates are for him – because the “Republicans in Name Only” he was seeing were either a) not actually espousing Republican small-government views at all, or b) so totally off-the-wall in other areas (like Cain here) that he couldn’t in good conscience vote for him. But he can’t vote in good conscience for the Democratic candidates either, believing so little in their power to actually rule the country financially. 

    Is that really “the enemy”? Or are we letting tiny, vocal minorities of pundits and self-proclaimed speakers for their side speak for everyone? Is this that different than assuming all Christians are Fred Phelps?  

    Is that really “the enemy”? In the sense that ignorance is the enemy then, yes it is. Your friend has swallowed a false construct—that true Republicans keep the government small and do a good job running the country financially while “tax & spend” Dems harm the country financially. 

    That’s not actually true. Or at least it’s only true if one defines “doing a good job running the country’s finances” as “transferring money from the poor and the middle class to the very wealthy via regressive tax policies.” That’s pretty much the only economic measure on which the Republicans consistently do “better” than the Democrats. The other things so-called true Republicans (and their supposed fellows in the Tea Party) claim to care about, like smaller government and reduced deficits, aren’t nearly so clear cut. The fact that your friend deals in ideology and sound bites instead of facts is not good for the country and it’s probably not doing him any favors either.

  • Anonymous

    As one of my friends pointed out today, it doesn’t matter how equal your rights are when you’re starving.

    Dead on.  This is why I think it’s time to amend the US Constitution.  People should have the right to a safe, clean place to sleep at night.  People should have the right to the best level of health that can be achieved between modern medicine and their own bodies’ abilities.  People should have the right to clean air and drinking water.  People should have the right to eat.  (Personally, I also think people should have the right to meaningful employment but YMMV on that one.)

    Right now, these things are privileges and, as either Fred or one of the other brilliant posters around here said (I can’t remember who, sorry), a privilege can be taken away.  When one is talking about those things needed for survival and even the most simple quality of life, well, that’s just wrong.

    Edit: I can’t spell today.

  • Lori

     A specific example that my friends and I have discussed is the repeated statement about a particular public figure–“he’s a good father”. This man is deeply disrepectful and at times abusive towards women, he repeatedly publicly humiliates the mother of his daughters, and his overall behaviour is of an immature, self-centred boor. Some people say, yes, these things are true, but he’s a good father so you have to credit him that. I’d say it appears that, no, he’s not. Having loving feelings towards a child is not sufficient to get to claim to be a good father.  

    IMO it’s tough to claim to love a child while publicly humiliating that child’s other parent. 

    If this public figure has sons he’s teaching them by example to disrespect women in a way that’s unlikely to result in them having healthy adult relationships. 

    If this public figure has daughters he’s teaching them by example that women don’t deserve respect, which will very likely harm their ability to have healthy adult relationships. 

    There is no reasonable definition of “good father” that includes those things and it’s really disturbing that anyone would set the good dad bar that low. [Insert here Chris Rock’s routine about how you’re supposed to have a job and pay child support.]