By Dr. Michael Brown
Has this ever happened to you? You form an opinion about someone based on what others have said, only to meet them and find out that you had a totally wrong impression? Or you’ve read select quotes from a person, only to learn that these quotes, which were taken out of context, painted a very false picture?
Headlines and Soundbites Are Manipulated to Mislead
I had been following a political race in one state from a distance, very much opposed to the Democratic candidate but not particularly happy with the Republican candidate, either. He sounded like an unreasonable extremist, not to mention a loose cannon. At least that’s the way I often saw him portrayed while surveying a number of different websites.
Finally, I decided to listen to him firsthand, and I was totally surprised. He was well spoken. He was careful in his choice of words. He was reasonable. And he sounded like a solid conservative rather than an extremist.
I had been misled by a caricature of the man whose quotes were spun in the worst possible way and divorced from their larger context. Without digging a little deeper, I had formed a wrong impression of who he really was. I had allowed headlines and soundbites to manipulate me.
To ask again, has that ever happened to you?
Feasting on a Steady Diet of Fake News
If you voted for Trump, as I did twice, you probably received some visceral hatred from the left, perhaps to the point of people (even former friends) refusing to talk to you.
But could it be that some of that reaction was not based on reality but rather on a demonized version of the man?
To be sure, he put his foot in his mouth all too often and had no problem stirring up angry sentiments from those who opposed him. There was plenty to hate in Trump if you were on the other side of the aisle.
But the almost hysterical reaction to our support for Trump can also be explained by the fact those who despised him most were often fed a steady diet of anti-Trump lies, of genuinely fake news.
As I wrote in August 2021, “There’s no question that President Trump knew how to push people’s buttons. And there’s no question that many of his followers were doggedly loyal to the point of not believing anyone other than Trump. In that sense, they could be accused of being part of the ‘cult of Trump.’ At the same time, the incessant, over the top, attacks of the leftwing media actually exacerbated the situation, helping to create the very ‘cult’ that the left so derided.”
One day we were told that Trump was colluding with Russia. The next day we were told he was deranged and not fit for office. (In January 2018, I wrote an article titled, “Has President Trump Lost His Mind or Has CNN Lost Its Bearings?”) The next day it was wall-to-wall appearances of the now infamous attorney Michael Avenatti, describing the latest alleged Trump scandal.
And millions of people believed every word. That man, in their eyes, was not just deranged. He was downright dangerous, not to mention an ugly racist. Impeach him or remove him before the whole world explodes in a nuclear war!
Remarkably, as reported on November 24, 2020, “Roughly 17% of Biden voters said they wouldn’t have voted for him if they had known about his record as well as that of President Trump, found the survey commissioned by the conservative Media Research Center.”
“The biggest movement away from Mr. Biden was among his voters who only after the election learned about shady business deals involving Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter. Forty-five percent of Biden voters said they didn’t know about Hunter Biden’s deals, and 9.4% said they would not have voted for the former vice president had they known.”
These voters live here in America. Yet many of them were unaware of Trump’s positive accomplishments and had heard nothing about the alleged Hunter Biden scandals. How is that even possible?
Research, Investigate, Probe, Think
The answer is that they lived in a leftist echo chamber, not even aware that there was another side to the story (or, that there was a whole story of which they knew nothing).
As Newt Gingrich said in retrospect, “That’s the entire election. The censorship worked exactly as intended.”
Remarkably, a moderate, white, anti-Trump evangelical leader who lived in the Washington, D.C., area said that he did not have a single evangelical friend or colleague who voted for Trump. He was absolutely shocked to read that 81% of white evangelical voters cast their vote for Trump. It looks like he was living in a bubble, too.
The problem is that we can do the exact same thing with right-wing reporting. We can draw inaccurate pictures of people or positions. We can live in our own echo chamber, in the media, in social media and in our social circles.
We can have our own visceral reactions to people we don’t know at all and whose positions we only heard represented in the most caricatured ways. And so, rather than form our opinions based on careful research and firsthand observations, we let others do the work for us, thereby allowing them to manipulate our minds.
After all, if I can just click on a link and read a headline, why should I dig into the article and click on the hyperlinks and look at the primary sources? (One of the most common headlines we see today informs us that Twitter has just “exploded” over a particular comment. But when you read the article, you see a few quotes from rather small accounts expressing displeasure. That was the “explosion.”)
In a day when the stakes are so high, a day when some people really are putting forth evil agendas, a day when we need to be more clearheaded than ever, we should make every effort to think for ourselves. And when we find trustworthy sources, let’s give them the credit they deserve. But let’s not abdicate our own responsibility to research, to investigate, to probe and to think.
Sometimes, a healthy skepticism can go a long way.
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Revival Or We Die: A Great Awakening Is Our Only Hope. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.