Via Right Wing Watch, here’s Glenn Beck, a part of the American media, complaining about a conspiracy by the American media to make him look like a conspiracy theorist …
I’m pretty sure that sentence loops back on itself and implodes.
Glenn’s claim is that the Rebecca Vitsmun, the Oklahoma tornado survivor who told Wolf Blitzer that “I’m Actually an Atheist.”, was a plant by the media to promote atheism.
He jumps straight from that to questioning why the media labels him a conspiracy theorist. Without apparent irony, he traces it back Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor and former member of Obama’s cabinet. Sustein wrote a paper, now available on SSRN, on the nature of conspiracy theories and the appropriate government response to them.
It’s actually an interesting paper, and thanks to Beck for pointing me to it. One of Sustein’s conclusions is that Government should maintain a more active “countermisinformation” campaign to target conspiracy theories, because there is an advantage to dealing with multiple theories over just the few that seem to gain popular traction:
When government rebuts a particular theory while ignoring most others, the legitimating effect arises at least in part because of a contrast between the foreground and the background: the inference is that government has picked the theory it is rebutting out of the larger set because this theory, unlike the others, is inherently plausible or is gaining traction among some sectors of the mass audience. Rebutting a larger fraction of the total background set reduces the strength of this inference as to each theory chosen for rebuttal.
He also suggests that government agents could engage in (and this sounds more dire than it actually is) “cognitive infiltration of extremist groups.” Basically, he suggests that government workers could openly enter meetings and chat rooms and explain facts to groups that have entered a closed information loop. It wouldn’t convince anyone, but it would introduce doubt and hopefully weaken extremist groups. Beck seems to be reading all this in a conspiratorial way, and concluding that Sustein wants to label all political opponents as conspiracy theorists:
“He said the government should call anyone who stands against them a conspiracy theorist. This isn’t a conspiracy theory. This is what he wrote about. This was his way for the government — and he said, ‘Even if it turns out to be true, you have to label people a conspiracy theorist because it isolates them.’”
All I can say is that I don’t find this in Sustein’s paper.
And finally, I think this deserves a meme: