Glenn Gets Meta

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:

Purity in Mississippi
So Long, And Thanks For All The Memories (From Dan)
All Cycles Come to an End
Romance at Mars Hill
  • Len

    … so we got a conspiracy about you bein a conspi-what?


    I think most of the right wing gas bags clogging up the airwaves are simply telling their audiences what they want to hear while making themselves rich in the process. The thing I find disturbing about Beck is……I think he may actually believe the things he says.

    • kessy_athena

      I doubt it. Back when he was on CNN, Beck actually sounded sane. I suspect Beck’s on air persona is about as genuine as Colbert’s.

  • Igor

    The guy has a model airplane and jingle bells on his desk, and is wearing a skull and crossbones sweater. But he’s not crazy.

    Can you imagine this guy being your father?

  • Artor

    Hmmm… I like the idea of a countermisinformation agency, but I don’t think it should be a gov’t department. That would play directly to the conspiracists, and would essentially shoot itself in the foot. I wouldn’t trust it myself. Some third party, preferably one that already has wide credibility, that could shoot down conspiracies on all sides of the fence would be a good thing. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any good candidates now. Anyone else?

  • mikespeir

    I sometimes try to convince myself that people like Glenn Beck can’t be real. But I fear they are.

  • Andrew Irvine

    You know what’s going to really bake your noodle? I think he’s in on it…

  • Nathan DeHoff

    It reminds me of how Fox News always talks about how great their ratings are, then criticizes the “mainstream media.”

  • Pofarmer

    I dunno if Beck is genuine or not. But when I found out he was a “devout Mormon” and wasn’t originally Mormon, but had converted to it, I knew he was a moron and quit listening.

  • revyloution

    The problem, as I see it, is a combination of population and the internet. Just a few decades ago, the worlds population was smaller and more disconnected. I knew conspiracy theorists back then, JFK was killed by the CIA or fake moon landing types. They were isolated, and relied on cheaply printed books and their own vivid imaginations. Peer pressure alone was usually enough to get them to abandon their wild theories of the Illuminati shortly after puberty.

    Enter the world population boom, combined with the proliferation of the internet. Today, it’s possible to have a tightly knit community of thousands of people who might never meet face to face, yet can create a self affirming, even self confirming group that isolates itself from the methods we used to use to discourage this behavior.

  • KBM

    I stopped listening to Beck when he started promoting that imbecile David Barton, the wannabe historian. This guy is one of the reason that caused me to check my faith. I reasoned, if he is so insecure about the American experiment that he must lie about it to make it more christian, then I had to wonder what other things did I believe that people had lied about. Beck has the same issues of manipulating the truth to meet his aims, but how could we expect anything more…it is what Apostle Paul taught. “I am all things to all men that I might win some.” That is why Christians are so squirrelly.