The Cognitive Dissonance Misdirection (CDM) is as old as politics. I’ve written about it here before, but finally have decided that it deserves a formal name–especially because it has been shamelessly employed by news media attempting to minimize, obscure or bury legitimate criticisms of Barack Obama and his Administration.
Cognitive dissonance is created when something an individual feels strongly about is associated in some way with something else. If the individual strongly likes, admires, or desires the first thing, cognitive dissonance will draw the second thing into his favor. If the individual intensely dislikes the first thing, he will begin to feel more negatively toward the second thing now linked to it. This why, for example, popular celebrities get product endorsement deals, and unpopular ones don’t. When Denzel Washington or George Clooney says he likes a car, people start liking the car too. If the same car were endorsed by, say, Lindsay Lohan or O.J. Simpson, a lot of people would assume it was a lemon…and they might not even realize why. Cognitive dissonance works its influence subliminally, and that’s why it is such an effective tool of persuasion…and bias.
The media’s version of this has been perfected over the last two years. When a legitimately troubling comment, action, incident or gaffe reflecting badly on the President, his Administration, or his staff occurs, the mainstream media has often not reported the issue straight, as in “This happened,” or “Obama said this,” but by immediately linking the story to the President’s presumably biased adversaries—Republicans, conservatives, and talk radio—and making the criticism the story, as in, “Republicans are attacking President Obama’s communications director Anita Dunn’s comments that seemed to praise Mao Zedong.” The fact that a high-ranking White House figure praising the greatest mass murderer in history, even in jest, is news, and should be criticized by Left and Right, was muted by the reporting of it.
Sometimes the mainstream media just ignored a negative story about the President or his Administration until Fox News or Glenn Beck covered it, which had the same effect. But as the device was used over and over again (for the often inept and tin-eared White House gave them a plethora of opportunities), it had other effects as well. More people began to distrust the press. Fox News, astoundingly, became the most trusted news source in the nation. And some media watchdogs, like the Washington Post and New York Times ombudsmen, began calling their own organizations on what was increasingly recognized as bad and biased reporting. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t work as well when one is aware of it.
Now, as the media’s favorite politicians and party teeter on electoral disaster, its favorite President uttered a disturbing word in reference to his political opponents. The word was “enemies,” and he told a Hispanic network interviewer that those enemies needed to be “punished.” Once again, the mainstream media ignored it, leaving the criticism to conservative bloggers, Fox, and Sean Hannity. A week after the remarks, however, a Democratic pollster and commentator, Pat Caddell, collaborated with Doug Schoen on a powerful op-ed for the Washington Post. The remarkable essay said, in part:
“President Obama’s post-partisan America has disappeared, replaced by the politics of polarization, resentment and division.
In a Univision interview on Monday, the president, who campaigned in 2008 by referring not to a “Red America” or a “Blue America” but a United States of America, urged Hispanic listeners to vote in this spirit: “We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.”
…What a change two years can bring.
We can think of only one other recent president who would display such indifference to the majesty of his office: Richard Nixon. We write in sadness as traditional liberal Democrats who believe in inclusion. Like many Americans, we had hoped that Obama would maintain the spirit in which he campaigned. Instead, since taking office, he has pitted group against group for short-term political gain that is exacerbating the divisions in our country and weakening our national identity.The culture of attack politics and demonization risks compromising our ability to address our most important issues – and the stature of our nation’s highest office.
Indeed, Obama is conducting himself in a way alarmingly reminiscent of Nixon’s role in the disastrous 1970 midterm campaign. No president has been so persistently personal in his attacks as Obama throughout the fall. He has regularly attacked his predecessor, the House minority leader and – directly from the stump – candidates running for offices below his own. He has criticized the American people suggesting that they are “reacting just to fear” and faulted his own base for “sitting on their hands complaining.”
…We are also disturbed that the office of the president is mounting attacks on private individuals, such as the founders of the group Americans for Prosperity. Having been forged politically during Watergate – one of us was the youngest member of Nixon’s enemies list – we are chilled by the prospect of any U.S. president willing to marshal the power of his office against a private citizen. The president is the leader of our society. That office is supposed to be a unifying force. When a president opts for polarization, it is not only bad politics, but it also diminishes the prestige of his office and damages our social consensus.”
Exactly. Caddell and Schoen perfectly express exactly why Obama’s remark is deserving of not even criticism, but alarm. Suddenly, because a card-carrying liberal Democrat and a one of President Jimmy Carter’s White House advisors had blown a whistle, the rest of the media rushed to cover the story.
Its approach? Reuters’ version is typical of the rest: