Sometimes, I wish America had British libel laws. This sort of dishonesty masquerading as “scholarship” makes me furious:
Mr. Corsi has released a new attack book painting Senator Barack Obama, the Democrats’ presumed presidential nominee, as a stealth radical liberal who has tried to cover up “extensive connections to Islam” — Mr. Obama is Christian — and questioning whether his admitted experimentation with drugs in high school and college ever ceased.
Significant parts of the book, whose subtitle is “Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality,” have already been challenged as misleading or false in the days since its debut on Aug. 1. Nonetheless, it is to make its first appearance on The New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction hardcovers this Sunday — at No. 1.
The Times does a solid job of undermining many of Corsi’s claims, such as this little lie:
In exploring Mr. Obama’s denials that he had been present for the more incendiary sermons of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Mr. Corsi cites a report on the conservative Web site NewsMax.com that Mr. Obama had attended a sermon on July 22, 2007, in which Mr. Wright blamed “the ‘white arrogance’ of America’s Caucasian majority for the world’s suffering, especially the oppression of blacks.”
Mr. Obama, however, was giving a speech in Florida that afternoon, and his campaign reported he had not attended Mr. Wright’s church that day.
William Kristol, a columnist for The New York Times, had cited the same report in a column, and issued a correction.
Despite these factual flaws, I have no doubt that the book will be extremely successful, and not only because it’s already a bestseller. I think the real damage done by texts like this is their mere existence. By making an accusation – even if the accusation is clearly wrong – the book gives its proponents a claim to defend. As a result, the airwaves are soon filled with pundits “debating” the merits of the book: the lie has been turned into an issue that seems worthy of debate.
At such moments, our fancy cognitive talents actually become a disadvantage, since they allow us to justify practically any belief. We use the brain as an information filter, a way to block-out disagreeable points of view. Consider this experiment, which was done in the late 1960’s, by the cognitive psychologists Timothy Brock and Joe Balloun. They played a group of people a tape-recorded message attacking Christianity. Half of the subjects were regular churchgoers while the other half were committed atheists. To make the experiment more interesting, Brock and Balloun added an annoying amount of static – a crackle of white noise – to the recording. However, they allowed listeners to reduce the static by pressing a button, so that the message suddenly became easier to understand. Their results were utterly predicable and rather depressing: the non-believers always tried to remove the static, while the religious subjects actually preferred the message that was harder to hear. Later experiments by Brock and Balloun demonstrated a similar effect with smokers listening to a speech on the link between smoking and cancer. We silence the cognitive dissonance through self-imposed ignorance.
The point is that it doesn’t really matter if the claims in this book are debunked. If you want to believe that Obama is a dope smoking Muslim Marxist, the brain will find a way.