Article by Michael Tracy in the Rocky Mountain News
Tracy: Truth matters not to Bush backers
Survey shows ‘considerable confusion’ over facts among president’s supporters
October 30, 2004
There is something truly weird happening with the relationship - or lack of one - between the information provided through the media to the public and what the public actually “knows.”
There is no reason on earth for anyone not to know what the candidates in the current elections stand for. At the regional level the Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post and the Boulder Daily Camera have provided more than effective representation of the positions of both national and regional candidates. At the national level - through the networks, cable news, Web sites, news magazines, and campaigns that have spent over $1 billion - if you wanted to know about policies, it was there to be had.
However, two recent reports from the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland show remarkable confusion in the public mind, particularly among Bush supporters.
The PIPA/Knowledge Networks survey in September and October shows that even after the final report of Charles Duel- fer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72 percent of Bush supporters continued to believe that Iraq had actual WMD or a major program for developing them. Fifty-seven percent assumed, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. Kerry supporters hold opposite, and correct, beliefs on all these points.
Seventy-five percent of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq provided substantial support to al-Qaida, and 63 percent believed that clear evidence of this support has been found. Fifty-five percent assumed, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions. In fact, according to the report on PIPA’s Web site: “Kerry supporters are much more accurate in assessing their candidate’s positions on all these issues.”
In one truly bizarre finding, the research found that 57 percent of Bush supporters assume that the majority of the world favors his re-election. According to recent international research in 10 countries, reported in the British newspaper The Guardian on Oct. 15, the world has “made up its mind, backing (Kerry) by a margin of 2 to 1.” A recent survey by leading newspapers in 10 countries concluded that “a majority of voters share a rejection of the Iraq invasion, contempt for the Bush administration, a growing hostility to the U.S. and a none-too-strong endorsement of Mr. Kerry.”
The obvious question is, what does all this mean? At the very least it supports an idea I have posed before: the news media are increasingly irrelevant, for large numbers of people, as sources of information with which to make rational decisions. As for what it tells us about the Bush supporters, Steven Kull, director of PIPA, argues: “To support the president and to accept that he took the U.S. to war based on mistaken assumptions likely creates substantial cognitive dissonance, and leads Bush supporters to suppress awareness of unsettling information about prewar Iraq.” Cognitive dissonance is defined as “a state of psychological conflict or anxiety resulting from a contradiction between a person’s simultaneously held beliefs or attitudes.”
I suspect, however, that for this group there is another, more troubling explanation, which is that “facts” and “truth” - the very coin of the realm for news media - don’t matter. And this is because in Bush’s “faith-based presidency” they don’t matter either.
In a remarkable profile of the Bush administration in The New York Times Magazine, it was clear from comments by people who work in the White House that “belief” was the fundamental organizing principle of the Bush White House. Those in residence were simply expected to believe in the wisdom - no doubt divinely ordained - of the president. Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Todd Whitman was quoted as saying that: “In meetings, I’d ask if there were any facts to support our case. And for that I was accused of disloyalty.” Bruce Bartlett, a Republican who worked for Bush senior, speaks of how officials were expected to trust in Bush’s “instincts.” He adds: “This instinct he’s always talking about is this sort of weird, messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do.” A Bush aide is quoted as saying to one journalist that people like him, the journalist, live in the “reality-based community,” people who worry about observable facts, whereas the Bushites live in a different universe, a place where belief shapes reality.
How curious that we are led by a figure driven by the same kind of religious zealotry as those he tries so hard to kill.
These are not small matters, since this mood, if I can call it that, flies in the face of everything for which this Republic is supposed to stand. The English philosopher, John Locke, whose writings were key to the thinking of the Founding Fathers, wrote, in 1689, “Truth . . . seldom has received, and I fear never will receive, much assistance from the power of great men, to whom she is rarely known and more rarely welcome.”
Three hundred years later the dismissal of Truth is not just a condition, it is becoming a way of life to be celebrated.