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We Need an Echo Chamber

by: Elaine in Roanoke

Thu Mar 04, 2010 at 10:00:00 AM EST

Progressives in this country are at a disadvantage in winning over public opinion for many reasons, but one important one is we don't have the equivalent of the right-wing echo chamber that repeats its propaganda until it becomes accepted as fact, even when it is a blatant lie.

Let me quote just a couple of things from the man who took political lying to a new low - Joseph Goebbels, propaganda minister for Adolf Hitler:

"The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over...If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it...The truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."

So, to us it may be obvious that Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and others are repeating obvious lies and following the advice  of Goebbels. To many Americans, all they know is that they heard different people say the same thing over and over, so it must be true.

Dr. Anthony P. Young, a psychologist, says that if a person believes that a lie is real, it will become real in its consequences.

"Individuals construct reality in their own mind. If you believe something is true, it becomes true regardless of what the facts are," maintains Young, a specialist in forensic psychology. This is what we are fighting against.

Elaine in Roanoke :: We Need an Echo Chamber
So, what are some of the myths that otherwise intelligent people buy into? Here's one small example:

Most people believe that lie detector tests are valid enough to show when a person is lying. They are not, but the fact that criminal suspects often believe that they are causes the police using the lie detector to get a confession. Courts don't allow the results as evidence in a trial because the detectors cannot be shown to be valid, but the confession can be used.

Here are other things that have become accepted as true but aren't:

"America is the richest nation in the world... America has the best medical system in the world... Markets are free and fairly reward individual effort... Business is efficient and government isn't."

A recent study found that memory plays a great part in what people recall as true or false. The research, conducted by Dr. Peter Frost, a psychology professor at New Hampshire's Rivier College, reported that people who were given misinformation recalled that information more clearly with the passage of time. Factual information, on the other hand, tended to blur with the passage of time.

George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, has been trying to get people on the left to realize that how we frame arguments and the language we use is vitally important.

His application of cognitive linguistics to politics has led him into territory normally considered basic to political science.

Lakoff has argued that one of the reasons liberals have had difficulty since the 1980s is that they have not been aware of how their own use of language is often detrimental to their philosophy.

For example, Lakoff insists that liberals must cease using terms like "partial birth abortion" and "tax relief" because they are manufactured specifically to allow the possibilities of only certain types of opinions. For instance, "tax relief" implies that taxes are an affliction, something someone would want "relief" from.

Conservatives long ago realized the importance of applying marketing and advertising principles to their message. We progressives need to do the same thing.

One example I can think of is that it was a mistake for the Obama administration to call the Recovery and Reinvestment Act the "stimulus bill" as a form of shorthand. The bill should have been referred to as a "job creation bill" or "job preservation bill" by every member of the administration. Whenever anyone called it a "stimulus bill," they should have been corrected and told, "No, this is a job preservation bill."

We all need to choose our words and the metaphors we use by considering their emotional content, Lakoff reminds us.

Just look at how difficult it is to defend "pro-choice," instead of "pro-life." The opposite of "pro-life" is "pro-death" in the minds of many people, just what the opponents of a woman's right to medical privacy want us to try to defend.

How about the "free market"? There is no such thing. Markets are constructs of people. Every market has rules. They aren't "free."

Conservatives, especially conservative think tanks and the corporate media that reinforce them, have framed virtually every issue from their perspective. They have put a huge amount of money into creating the language for their worldview and getting it out there.

On the other hand, we progressives have done virtually nothing. We have too few think tanks, too few people on the Sunday talk shows, too few letters to the editor in papers.

That needs to change. We had better learn how to market our ideas. We have let the opposition label us for far too long. It's past time for us to label them.

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Things Like This!
Lowell on Blue Virginia has an entry on one great thing happening in our very own budding "echo chamber":

"A progressive veterans group is making a fiery push to get comprehensive energy reform passed into law, going up on air with a new ad tying oil consumption to Iranian-backed attacks against U.S. troops.

"In a spot set to air in eight key states, the group, (with an assistance from the energy independence group Operation Free) splices footage of highly developed improvised explosive devices being used against U.S. soldiers alongside Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Narrated by Iraq War veteran Christopher Miller, who earned a Purple Heart as the result of an IED explosion six years ago, the ad makes the case that passing energy legislation is a national security imperative."


I like those guys.
VoteVets is an example of an organization the DNC should be supporting. People forget that Democrats are excellent at foreign policy and national security because no one reminds them. We get nailed over it because we frequently warn against war and risky decisions.

While I really do agree that liberalism in America needs a voice box, especially after losing Air America, we have to be careful to not go too far. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are prefect examples of echo boxes going too far. We don't want to become them but we do want to replicate the successes of those media giants.

[ Parent ]
Estate tax
versus Death tax is another one. Obama is a constitutional lawyer, not a litigation lawyer, but if he were, he would use far more colorful language in presenting his case.

The problem you describe has deep roots in liberal thinking: liberals tend to believe that the truth will make you free, and, if everyone simply had the real facts, they would all reach the same conclusion, and support liberal causes. That is not how it works, just as the Free Market theory of capitalism is wrong when it pretends everyone makes economic decisions rationally. Emotion, psychology, what some economists call "animal spirits" is what makes decisions, whether economic, political, or social.

The lack of liberal think tanks and liberal news outlets is also possibly the very foundation of our current problem, as Robert Parry in has often complained. Liberal donors in the past tended to set up charitable and political action groups around a specific cause, creating special interest groups to solve perceived problems---- what we now call "silos." They did not go after buying up newspapers or television channels, and the conservatives did. Now the liberal voice is muted, to our enduring disadvantage.

New Media...
We need a direct change in the method of communications for the DPVA. We need to use blogs, better messaging, and a spokesperson for the party.
Howard Dean worked with Lakoff extensively and to this day when he is interviewed he is "on message" and it is very hard to go after him. He is short and to the point.
Use the facts, use short phrases, and stay on message.

Howard Dean did, indeed.

Your point about the DPVA is well taken. Even the website of the party is no one down there updates it.

I would think that it would be obvious that someone there should also be doing much of what is currently only happening on the blogs, i.e., pointing out the flip-flops of the new governor, the travesty that is the new attorney general, the consequences of the Republican decisions to gut education and health in the state. After all, an "echo chamber" means multiple ways to get the same message across. We shouldn't be the only ones holding the GOP responsible for their decisions. We could certainly use backup from the DPVA.

Perhaps this new executive director will change things, but if his main attraction is that he's close to D. Cranwell, I have my doubts.

[ Parent ]
Also, as you noted , a "rapid response".
That is sorely needed.

Thanks, Elaine for reminding about this.
That Dems have lost he messaging (for now) is obvious.  

Just today, cable "news" (hint--not FAUX News) stations aired a Power Point slide from a Republican mailing.  One station challenged the use of the word "socialist" while the other did not.  But they both accepted the negative Republican frame as the launching point.

CNN also falsely portrayed the language of the Heath Care Bill (Senate version) as allowing federal funding of abortion.  MSNBC wasn't as overtly complicit, but did not correct the misstatements of the guest "experts." The Hyde amendment forbids federal funding of abortion.  

The fear mongering is nonsense.  What's at issue is whether those insurers who write plans for the federal exchange can even include abortion coverage (even if the patient pays for the rider on her own).  but there is no federal coverage of abortion.  Note, however, that hypocrite Republican covered it for their RNC employees until their hypocrisy was outed.

CNN has taken up the GOP language.  The morning substitute host for Kieran Chetry used the words "crammed down [our] throats" when referring to Dems forging ahead on health care.

When the media outlets act as conduits for lies, accept partisan frames, and accept no responsibility for fact-checking, it's no wonder so many are ignorant of the facts.

I think we have to accept the fact that we have failed to overcome the obstacles to dispelling falsehoods.  The corporate media has won.  We have to devise more creative ways to deal.  And even as I write this, major media companies are working on ways to disembowel the citizen media through a variety of tactics.  

So the first order of business is to pay attention to the news of the corporate fight against net neutrality.  The foes are increasingly powerful.  We are far from winning and in fact must always work to defend it.

"One person, one vote" died at the hands of SCOTUS, January 21, 2010

Obama on Our Side
President Obama has come out strongly for net neutrality, but the hidden elites who pull strings behind the scenes will do everything they can to get control - both for profit and for propaganda - of the net. This will be a real fight.

[ Parent ]
excellent post..
You are spot on. The "news readers", they are  NOT journalists- are a joke. That is why ABC is laying off one-third of it's news (that would be a joke) because no one is watching it.
And Wolf Blitzer, well he has a coronary if he has to cover health care.
They are all jokes, and yes, the corporate media.

They Pay the Piper
American audiences never get the truth: Television, from its very inception, has existed for the advertisements, not for the content.

When Roone Arledge took over ABC news - with his background in sports - and made it make money, that was the end of any semblance of objectivity in network news. Cable is simply worse than the networks.

[ Parent ]
Elaine, you're exactly right.  I've pointed out before how conservatives twisted the climate debate by only referring to climate change by the bloodless term "cap and trade" -- and many Dems were clueless enough to take the bait and use the same terms rather than more passionate and effective ones.

I think we've gotten to the point of Democratic control in Washington partly because of the ability of progressive blogs to shape the terms of debate. But we've got to learn how to speak to those who aren't our normal audience.

BTW, you don't need to go back to Goebbels to make these points -- just look at Madison Avenue, which applies the same techniques thousands of times a day...

Climate Crisis
Lakoff has said that the term "climate change" is a Republican/Corporate term to mitigate the danger.

He suggests that we call it "climate crisis" each time we refer to global warming.  

[ Parent ]
Thanks, Elaine,
For a thought-provoking post. I agree with most of it, except this:

[...] it was a mistake for the Obama administration to call the Recovery and Reinvestment Act the "stimulus bill" as a form of shorthand. The bill should have been referred to as a "job creation bill" or "job preservation bill" by every member of the administration.

Wile I do agree that "stimulus" may not have been the best term possible to use (too reminiscent of the Bush's "stimulus" -- sending everyone a wee check, to hoard instead of stimulating the economy), I'm quite happy that, at the time, little was mentioned about it being a "jobs bill".

Had it been called the "jobs bill" (or a variant thereof) then, two things would have happened: 1) the door would have been firmly shut against the jobs bill that's now inching its way through the Congress (We just had a jobs bill! Didn't do squat! Why do we need another one?) and, 2) we would have had even less defense against the Repub attack of "it didn't create a single job". As things are, we can -- both -- say that the bill wasn't, primarily, about creating jobs and that quite a few jobs were saved/created as the result of it.

Regarding Lakoff
I've always -- ever since I can remember -- been fascinated by language. My own training is in applied linguistics (English). During one of the 5 yrs I spent at the Warsaw U (4yrs got a certificate of completion; 5yrs + successfully defended thesis got an MA; seemed cheap at the price), I was also active in the propaganda dept of the "Student Socialist Org." (or whatever it was called; can' remember now, after all those years. But do remember a lively discussion I had about it with the guy who interviewed me for my citizenship). So I certainly appreciate what Lakoff is saying and, in general, agree with him.

But he's even older than I am and we belong to a different era. "In our time", people got their news from newspapers, which allowed one to savour the nuances of the language. Today, people get their info either from TV (in 2-minute segments) or from things like Twitter. How much nuance can you pack into 140 characters? In order to be effective in today's environment, we have to express ourselves with bumpersticker brevity -- not something that comes easily to most of us.

The "echo chamber" is a different issue still. Not only do we need to be short and "punchy" but, to match the Repubs, we need to repeat the same thing over and over and over again. Unfortunately, most intelligent people get bored to tears by repetition/drills; we feel that, once a thing has been explained, it ought to be "it". Repubs, OTOH, never get tired of hearing the same thing repeated endlessly, as long as it's a thing they feel comfortable with. On top of which, if they hear it on five different programs -- even if all those programs are on the same station (Fox) and even if the wording is identical -- they don't even notice the monotony; they think it's 5 different and independent experts voicing similar opinions.

And, no; I have no idea how to counteract it. It's like oil and water -- you can shake them up, but they won't stay mixed for more than a second or two.

Lakoff and Metaphor
Lakoff makes much of our choice of words and the metaphors we use, especially since language is, in a sense, a code where sounds and images give thought and reality a form.

Much of his work centers on his belief that the conservative point of view is one in which society needs to be controlled by a "strict father" in order to maintain order and keep chaos at bay. In contrast, Lakoff says that the liberal view of life is more that of a "nurturing parent," in that liberals willingly accept change if it promises to make people's lives better and to improve society.

So, in Lakoff's view, government is the pendulum that swings between those opposing views.

To me, it's "fear of change" vs "acceptance of change"

His ideas are intriguing, at least. I have always thought it funny that he purposefully avoids using the term "nurturing mother" because of the obvious problems that would cause in a patriarchal society with its horror, on the part of men, to be labeled in any way feminine.

I guess that reinforces his ideas about the importance of word choice.  :-)

[ Parent ]
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