Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Disagreeing Over The Facts
One of the things James Fallows spoke a bit about was the idea that, as a result of the media's fragmentation, we are increasingly disagreeing on the facts. For example, he stated that the majority of those voting for Bush in 2004 believed there were WMDs in Iraq. One solution to this might seemingly be to correct these disagreements by having the media broadcast refutations of factually incorrect information. Unfortunately, it may not be that simple.
Studies of cognitive dissonance-- when a person holds two contradicting views at the same time-- have shown that if a person is a firm believer in something factually incorrect, hearing a refutation of that fact may actually strengthen their incorrect belief. Further, people with a particular set of political views are more inclined to believe in a certain piece of misinformation and retain it if it fits in with their political ideology, even when refuted.
For example, an On The Media report described an experiment conducted on a group of experiments. 35% of the group members already believed President Bush's factually inaccurate claim that tax cuts increase revenue before a refutation was given. After being told the claim and the refutation, with refutation coming even from former Bush economists, even more people believed in the false information-- 67 percent. A similar effect takes place takes place when people view misleading political advertisements-- even if a person does realize advertised claims about candidates are untrue, they may still hold on to the negative feelings that were wrongfully associated with them, especially if they have opposing political views to the candidate.
James Fallows expressed a lot of optimism about seeing the future of media as cyclical. I agree with his optimism, but I think this highlights the severity of current problems, and how much will need to change. In addition, it raises some unpleasant questions about how much Americans will have the ability to agree on the facts, regardless of how much things do improve.
Given this information, how optimistic are you about the future of American journalism and discourse?