You Can’t Handle the Truth

From WNYC’s On the Media, in an interview by hosts Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield with the Washington Post‘s Shankar Vedantam about recent phychological studies on how the brain processes true and false statements (emphasis added):

BROOKE GLADSTONE: I want to ask you, then, about truth-squadding, since we’re in the midst of political races. Here’s the scenario: politician A makes horrendous charges against politician B, essentially lying about the opposition. A vigilant reporter notices this and does a truth-squadding article in the newspaper that says, no, this campaign ad is simply not true for the following reason. And politician B, of course, immediately starts attacking politician A for misrepresenting his or her record. Who wins?

SHANKAR VEDANTAM: I think invariably it’s going to be politician A. When you have people who are systematically trying to manipulate you, spread propaganda, for instance, and they repeat the same information over and over again, the fact that we are not very good at remembering where we heard a particular piece of information, we tend to believe that we have heard the information from multiple independent sources and therefore it must be true, rather than from the same untrustworthy source over and over again.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, the studies you’re talking about suggest that these effects take place irrespective of the bias of the listener. But there’s another study that suggests that if you are, in fact, predisposed to have a certain world view that misinformation sticks still more. Can you describe it?

SHANKAR VEDANTAM: There’s a new study that’s just been completed by Jason Reifler at Georgia State University where he actually looks at questions such as why it is that large numbers of people continue to believe that weapons of mass destruction were present in Iraq before the invasion or even found in Iraq after the invasion.

And what Jason and his colleagues did was try and give people the correct information. And what he found, ironically, is that partisans who wanted to believe that weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, when told about the correct information, ended up believing ever more fervently that they were right and that the correct information was wrong.

Huey Long Died 72 Years Ago Today

Almost lost in the aftermath of the drowning of New Orleans two years ago was a milestone anniversary of another significant event in Louisiana history: the 70th observance of the death of Senator Huey Pierce Long, Jr..

On this 72nd anniversary of Long’s death (he was shot on 8 September 1935 but died two days later) I feel it’s all the more important to encourage people to look at the actual accomplishments of the man, and not what people who were threatened by his agenda accused him of.

To that end, I humbly submit my 1992 review of T. Harry Williams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Long (the review’s been on the web so long it’s still on the first Google page of searches for “huey long”). If you can find a copy, one of Ken Burns’s earliest projects was on Long. While it’s hardly a detailed study of Long’s policies or actions, it’s particularly interesting for the interviews in which members of the state’s ruling class express their hatred for Long and his intrusion into their turf, which puts one in mind of the Washington elite’s attitude toward Clinton.

There’s much more out there, but, as always, I like to close with words from Huey Long himself, from his autobiography Every Man a King:



The increasing fury with which I have been and am to be, assailed by reason of the fight and growth of support for limiting the size of fortunes can only be explained by the madness which human nature attaches to the holders of accumulated wealth.

What I have proposed is:—


1. A capital levy tax on the property owned by any one person of 1% of all over $1,000,000 [dp: $14,275,000 in 2005 dollars]; 2% of all over $2,000,000 [$28,550,000] etc., until, when it reaches fortunes of over $100,000,000 [$1,427,500,000], the government takes all above that figure; which means a limit on the size of any one man’s forturn to something like $50,000,000 [$713,750,000]—the balance to go to the government to spread out in its work among all the people.

2. An inheritance tax which does not allow one man to make more than $5,000,000 [$71,375,000] in a lifetime without working for it, all over that amount to go to the government to be spread among the people for its work.

3. An income tax which does not allow any one man to make more than $1,000,000 [$14,275,000] in one year, exclusive of taxes, the balance to go to the United States for general work among the people.

The forgoing program means all taxes paid by the fortune holders at the top and none by the people at the bottom; the spreading of wealth among all the people and the breaking up of a system of Lords and Slaves in our economic life. It allows the millionaires to have, however, more than they can use for any luxury they can enjoy on earth. But, with such limits, all else can survive.

That the public press should regard my plan and effort as a calamity and me as a menace is no more than should be expected, gauged in the light of past events. According to Ridpath, the eminent historian:

“The ruling classes always possess the means of information and the processes by which it is distributed. The newspaper of modern times belongs to the upper man. The under man has no voice; or if, having a voice, his cry is lost like a shout in the desert. Capital, in the places of power, seizes upon the organs of public utterance, and howls the humble down the wind. Lying and misrepresentation are the natural weapons of those who maintain an existing vice and gather the usufruct of crime.”

—Ridpath’s History of the World, Page 410.

In 1932, the vote for my resolution showed possibly a half dozen other Senators back of it. It grew in the last Congress to nearly twenty Senators. Such growth through one other year will mean the success of a venture, the completion of everything I have undertaken,—the time when I can and will retire from the stress and fury of public life, maybe as my forties begin,—a contemplation so serene as to appear impossible.

That day will reflect credit on the States whose Senators took the early lead to spread the wealth of the land among all the people.

Then no tear dimmed eyes of a small child will be lifted into the saddened face of a father or mother unable to give it the necessities required by its soul and body for life; then the powerful will be rebuked in the sight of man for holding what they cannot consume, but which is craved to sustain humanity; the food of the land will feed, the raiment clothe, and the houses shelter all the people; the powerful will be elated by the well being of all, rather than through their greed.

Then those of us who have pursued that phantom of Jefferson, Jackson, Webster, Theodore Roosevelt and Bryan may hear wafted from their lips in Valhalla:


I Have So Much to Do

Louisiana Senator Huey Long was shot on this date in 1935. He died two days later.

Forty years later to the day, President Gerald Ford gave disgraced former President Richard Nixon a full and complete pardon. You know, just in case he did anything wrong.

Do You Trust These People, Sen. Wyden?

It was just over three weeks ago that I asked Sen. Ron Wyden if he trusted the administration and he replied that he believed in the “Trust but Verify” philosophy Ronald Reagan cadged from the Russians (doveryai no proveryai).

That was the day before news started coming out that the Petraeus report was going to be waterboarded by the White House to gasp out the approved story on “progress” in Iraq. Wyden pinned a lot of his hopes on the Petraeus report during his discussion at his Town Hall on Iraq in Portland, saying that he thought it might influence Republican lawmakers (I don’t know whether he thought the Democrats in Congress who support the Iraq war would be affected).

So now comes the word from Rassmussen that only 39% of American voters believe that the report will honestly and accurately reflect Petraeus’s true assessment of the situation in Iraq. Nearly as many (35%) say that it won’t. 26% aren’t sure.

I’ll be interested in seeing how long the senator waits and what methodology he uses to verify his trust in the general’s report.