I’m currently toying with the idea of putting together a larger piece on the Conspiracy Theory / Truther movement. This may, or may not, see the light of day depending on time and attention span constraints but while doing some more research it did occur to me that one interesting tool in the kit of any good truther is the mainstream media and how misinformation can very quickly become disinformation when it comes to using the former to ‘prove’ a conspiracy theory.
It’s worth pointing out that this article isn’t about disproving any given theory nor descending into any kind of debunking exercise, we can leave that for another time. Let’s start with the misinformation. Incorrect reporting is hardly something new but we do live in an age of information overload. If a an event occurs which is deemed sufficiently important than journalists and cameramen descend onto the scene en masse. Their respective networks will offer wall to wall coverage of the event desperate to keep and grow their audience share. To keep people hooked information has to constantly be fed to the viewing masses, shoved down their gaping, accepting maw trying to satisfy a hunger that simply can’t be sated. Repeat the same information too often and people lose interest, they might turn off their TV and find something else to do or, worse still, switch to a rival network in the hopes of getting more sustenance.
The pressure on reporters in these times is enormous. They want the glory, they want to break the big item, they want to be THE face of breaking news thus any tidbit of information is reported back to the network who shovel it out to us just as soon as they can preferably with a large “BREAKING NEWS” graphic below. Nothing is finer than “BREAKING NEWS” after all and if you get it wrong, well…that’s the situation on the ground after all.
Imagine the scene. You have a school shooting, it happened only 35 minutes beforehand and reporters are already hitting the scene. The police still have no idea how many shooters there might be, there are dead children, dead teachers, blood and screaming. Utter confusion. Chinese whispers become commonplace. “I heard 35 kids died and it was three shooters” “Yeah? Well I was just told a teacher saw two shadows run past the window when the shooting started” “did you know the police cuffed some guy? He was probably one of them” and so it goes. In the utter chaos of such a scene is it really surprising if mistakes are made? If facts aren’t checked as they should be? You don’t only have the chaos on the ground you have the chaos of reporters constantly looking for more and more information and a whole lot of people who’ll share whatever they might or might not have personally scene amidst the horror and confusion. Got something? They’ll take it. They can always retract it later on after all so where’s the harm?
Once the situation is over the conspiracy theories begin. It’s fertile ground these days, more than ever before. No sooner can you type youtune into your browser the first of the theorists have broken cover. They’re grabbing bits of news footage which might contain misinformation either in incorrect names or facts or even just inconsistencies between rival networks because their ‘people on the ground’ have been asking different folks what’s happened, what they saw, what they might have heard.
The reports are often cherry picked because they can easily be used to bolster the general conspiracy. One network makes one claim, one makes another. To some this might simply be an indication of inconsistency, of the situations outlined above. To others it represents absolute proof that a conspiracy is afoot. Look at any of the Sandy Hook conspiracies, or the Boston Bombings, or the daddy of all of them these days 9-11. Every single inconsistency or crumb of misinformation is now presented as proof of a shadowy conspiracy. This is where it becomes disinformation.
The first thing I do when I look at any conspiracy theory which uses mainstream media information to back it up is the time line of the information. Then I try to validate what is being claimed. Look at Sandy Hook, the theory that no massacre occurred and that actors were used to represent parents and witnesses still have massive traction amidst conspiracy theorists. The reason behind it? The government want to take away people’s guns. Of course you can ask where the children are if they weren’t killed or why there’s pretty much no reasonable evidence of actors being used but you’ll be roundly attacked almost immediately as being either a sheep or a shill. There is no grey area with conspiracy theorists or indeed their opposite number. You’ll be shown video of parents smiling even though their children were killed, this they will tell you is absolute proof. Regardless of what the situation is, regardless that there is no handbook on how to grieve, regardless of the fact parents talking about their children might find something to smile about even in the depths of their grief, it’s all absolute proof.
Quite often there’s a line which goes something like this “If you can’t see this, you’re stupid”. Immediately this excludes your opinion, you’re too stupid to grasp the reality of the situation being put to you. This is the perfect use of disinformation. Present an item which could be interpreted in several ways as absolute proof and then deny any validity to questioning your conclusion. Surely someone “awake” and open to all possibilities would be more welcoming of the dissenting voice? Apparently not. You can see this in a video from the rather odious Ed Chiarini where two policemen are shown moving a corpse. Mr Chiarini says you can clearly see that it’s a dummy and closes the door right there. Thing is, you can’t clearly see it’s a dummy. In fact it looks like any other corpse I’ve seen moved, the same weighty appearance and boneless movement. But because you should be able to clearly see it you’re obviously a fool if you don’t.