Notes, 1-6-21

2020 Taught Us How to Fix This” was the headline over a late December column by David Brooks in the New York Times and any number of other newspapers and websites.  

In 2020, Brooks wrote, “millions of Americans seemed impervious to evidence.” The year “called into question the very processes by which our society supposedly makes progress.” “[T]he key to change is education. We can teach each other to be more informed and make better decisions.”

I’ve taken his words out of context. The column is about racial diversity training and reasons it is not working in the United States. But  parts apply to the challenge “truthers” face in fighting the lies about the September 2001 terrorist attacks fed to the public by the executive branch of the federal government and news media including the Times.

Millions of Americans are impervious to evidence about those attacks because news media managers have barred evidence contrary to executive-branch mythology wrapping the attacks. They effectively tell readers, viewers and listeners, “You don’t want to know.”

If the key to change is education, the news media are playing hooky.

Although the column is about flawed diversity training, Brooks notes that it’s only one topic to which some of his examples apply. What can truthers learn from the idea that “our models for how we change minds or change behavior are deeply flawed. … [I]f you tell someone their facts are wrong, you don’t usually win them over; you just entrench false belief”? Or the idea that “people don’t like to be told what to think, and may rebel if they think they’re being pressured to think a certain way”?

With luck, the years 2002 through 2020 will teach us how to fix this. 

   

A news story over the byline of Carol Rosenberg in the New York TImes, headlined “Pandemic Delays Start of 9/11 Trial at Cuban Base,” included this: “Hijackers seized control of four commercial airliners on Sept. 11, 2001, and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and into a Pennsylvania field, killing 2,976 people.”

Among the dubious elements in the sentence are that four commercial airliners were what crashed at the four sites, and that the crashes alone caused the deaths of nearly that number of people.

   

In a column about troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq, Mark Shields or an editor at Creators Syndicate stated as fact that on 9/11 “al-Qaeda operatives hijacked four commercial U.S. airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, resulting in the deaths of nearly 3,000.” (The column left the Pennsylvania part out but, unlike the Times news story, tacked blame for whatever happened in the airliners solely on al-Qaeda.)

— Mark Channing Miller

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