PhotoMorte and the Mathematics of Lying
Bevin Gilmore email@example.com
Frank Rich in the June 9 issue of the New York Times gives his readers some clues on how the Bush gang employs photo op psychology to perpetrate its lies. The media is the message, so all they need to do is paint a pretty lie for the media to cover. The numbers will do the rest.
Bushies know that a lie flies halfway around the globe before the truth gets its boots on. And so the lie, unobstructed by truth's need for time and research, becomes the first and most lasting impression. (We heard plenty of these deliberately planted lies during the election debacle to distract people from a truthful conclusion). Successful lies come in pictures with lots of color. First and foremost, people are visually oriented. Pictures are the way most people register their understanding of an issue, where they form a perception, what Germans call a "gestalt." It is far more effective than the written word, where discovering the truth takes work because reading takes work - first to eyeball the information and second to analyze it. With pictures, like movies, all the information "washes over" you, allowing you to absorb the intended analysis without any effort on your part. The picture and the text, however, don't always match up.
Rich gives some examples of how the bush photo op, far from being a celebrated event, seems more accurately to be the kiss of death for participants. ("Morte" is Italian for death).
1. Photo: Bush appears in front of a sea of police officers to push a plan to hire more prosecutors to enforce existing gun laws.
Text (truth): Three days later Ashcroft writes the NRA endorsing a second amendment interpretation that would gut existing gun laws, and the bush budget asks for a 17% decrease in COPS, the federal program that provides money for police salaries.
Did those police officers who were used to make Bush look good realize the photo op was their kiss of death? Does the public? Not likely. The warm and fussy picture is that bush is a friend of police and a foe of gun law violators. The truth tells a different story that is incompatible with the picture. But people don't read as often as they "see." The image and its friendly message are imprinted in their minds as a first impression that no words can easily dispel.
2. Photo: Bush visits Boys and Girls Clubs and talks about the universality of "loving thy neighbor."
Text: In his budget, federal money for these clubs is eliminated entirely. Did the boys and girls exploited for that photo op know they were getting the carefully crafted photoMorte, the "kiss of death"? Not likely. And if you ask the average American, they will remember the telegenic photo while drawing a blank on the absence of Club funding in the budget. The impression left by the photo op is a visual LIE because it contradicts what is really happening, or about to happen.
3. Laura Bush, First Lady Liar, kicks off the "Campaign for America's Libraries with a "photoMorte" in a Washington public library in April.
Text: One week later, funding for libraries is cut by $39 million. Did those librarians know . . .?
As Rich points out, photo ops are traditionally used as occasions to dramatize a president's policy rather than disguise it, an opportunity to show their support for something, not their intention to undermine it. In this scam, the goal is to create a false impression that cannot easily be undone by a report issued a few days later that may or may not be covered by diligent reporters. Call it "picture lying."
Same thing with the vandalism lies, the Air Force One lies, the stolen furniture lies. In each instance, a negative "picture" of Clinton and the Clinton crowd was drawn for a gullible audience, to have this picture "washed over them" quickly, as a first impression of the story, with the truthful follow-up all but ignored. The press stupidly takes the bait, and the talk show comics go to town spreading the lies. Inside of a week, Clinton and his crowd are lynched in public, tried and "executed" by talk show hosts, without a shred of proof to support the charges.
All because some thugs painted a word picture that flew at lightning speed around the world and nobody asked them for corroboration of the charges.
The mathematics of those who see the picture or read the headline far exceeds the number of people who actually read or accurately receive the irreconcilable follow-up facts. Even then, the truth produces "cognitive dissonance," because the tendency is to accept the first impression.
We actually should not wait for a second GAO investigation. A crime has already been committed. Fleischer had a responsibility to call in a third party law enforcement agency to document evidence of any criminal activity. He did not do that. THAT is the scandal that should be condemned, and it should be condemned NOW because it has already been proven.
But the Bushies have done the math. More reporters today are more interested in a scandalous allegation than in vetting it in accordance with the guidelines of responsible journalism. So the framework of the debate they draw remains intact. The alleged crimes are still a "possibility," and the Clinton workers continue in this administration-created limbo, i.e., STILL guilty until proven innocent. This is fundamentally immoral. To accept it passively is to aid and abet it.
The alternative is to REJECT the picture AND its framework. Let us call this crowd what they have already demonstrated themselves to be, in words and pictures: Irresponsible, conniving libelers and slanderers who bear false witness against their neighbor. Having slandered without proof THEN, they have forfeited their right to be trusted NOW.
But no one is speaking publicly on the obvious for fear they will be accused of the same tactic. This is despicable meekness. Congressman Weiner of New York almost "gets it," but falls short by agreeing to play the waiting game instead of making a Trent-like counter-accusation against the politically self-serving and empty charges of Fleischer and his goons. His attack should be backed up by Senatorial blessings and heart-felt expressions of concern for the misuse of presidential offices and responsibilities (press secretary). He and others should be demanding Fleischer's termination, and the termination of any apologist who would deny these Clinton workers their much deserved apology and clearing of their reputations. And they should be demanding an investigation from Congress on the origins of this scam. Let it be a warm-up for Florida. The Democrats cannot really believe we would sacrifice our own for the sake of their besmirched careers (that powersharing deal to forego protest of Florida's electors wasn't the smartest tradeoff, now, was it?). So once again, for the Sleeping Senators: Find Your Spine. If you cannot defend the people who man your phones and handle your correspondence, no amount of pomp and circumstance can restore your honor.
We need to look no further than the cowards in Congress to see what a neat trick this is that's employed so cavalierly by the bushies. This tactic is part of the art of psychological warfare and the contrived misdirection of the trained magician. The bush crowd of psychological warriors knows the game very well. All that is required to play it is a lack of integrity. They merely have to act on their supreme contempt for the American public and the average citizen's attention span. To them, the public is there to be manipulated by the numbers. A few people will know the truth of their lies, but using their own cost-benefit ratios, the vast majority will have swallowed the message that has been imprinted by the warm and fuzzy image. In their calculations, that's a "win."
It's all in the mathematics of lying. And they have the numbers on their side...
... Unless you can change the pictures. This administration has compiled a long list of these crimes. Unfortunately, the Democrats, betting on the long view that hopes Republicans will hang themselves with enough rope, do not realize the growing disgust their failure to act for workers much like us is creating. One wonders if their silence betrays a shared attitude towards these people similar to that of Republicans: Contempt.