It’s Confirmation Bias, Stupid!

I have now seen various versions of this question on multiple blogs, websites, and in comments around the web—this is the version from “The Last Refuge,” a conservative site:

“How did Robert Mueller and Andrew Weissmann spend 2 years investigating Trump-Russia; with a team of 19 lawyers, $40 million in resources, 40 FBI agents, 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants and 500 witnesses; and not find out that Hillary Clinton created the hoax they were investigating?”

It was confirmation bias. It’s really as simple as that. Even though the lawyers and agents involved in the investigation could not find the smoking gun evidence they were sure was there somewhere showing that Donald Trump and his odious minions conspired with America’s enemies to steal the 2016 election from its rightful winner, Hillary Clinton, they were absolutely certain that’s what happened, and still probably believe that’s what happened. They believed it fervently before the investigation ever began, and it poisoned the objectivity and the legitimacy of their work throughout.

Every aspect of Trump’s Presidency was poisoned by confirmation bias—from the news media, from academics, from the Washington D.C. culture, from the popular culture—stretching back before he was nominated. He was a bad guy, that’s all, and everything he did or said was filtered through that jaundiced perception. It is impossible for anyone to succeed in any job, and definitely not the hardest job in the civilized world, burdened with that handicap.

People–smart people, learned people, well-intentioned people— would not accept that the man wasn’t seeking the Presidency as part of some kind of sinister plan to enrich himself and his family, nor that he brought any useful skills to the job, nor that he could have possibly won (and the fact that it was “only” an Electoral College victory was seen as proof of that, though it was not).

Make no mistake: Trump himself lay the groundwork for much of that bias. The fact that he has always been loose with language and facts caused him to be labeled a habitual liar, so everything he said that wasn’t precisely accurate became another lie. The fact that he talked like a thug helped fuel the assumption that he was a thug; that he was a salesman by nature created the image that he was only a con man.

Of course, a lot of the bias was based on class prejudice: the nation’s elite governing and intellectual classes were certain that he wasn’t “worthy,” like, you know they were.

So he was mocked, and ridiculed, and insulted, and disrespected for his entire term. He was impeached with no evidence that he had done anything all Presidents do and have done for centuries, on the presumption, without proof, that his motives were different. When his policies worked, it was because he was lucky, or because it was someone else’s accomplishment somehow. Given these unfair and unprecedented handicaps, Donald Trump’s accomplishments were remarkable.

I am proud of the fact that despite my own horror that someone like Donald Trump became President of the United States, the position here from the beginning was that he deserved a chance, the beneifit of a clean slate, and the basic patriotic support the office of the President was designed and evolved to have. He did not get it, and the Mueller fiasco was a major reason. I have written repeatedly that the treatment of Trump by the “Axis of Unethical Conduct,” the resistance/Democratic Party/ mainstream media collective, was, has been and is the most consequential ethics breach of our time. This position, in which I have never wavered just as my personal assessment that people like Trump shouldn’t lead nations has never wavered. It has cost Ethics Alarms readers and support, and me jobs and friends.

But I was right. Bias makes you stupid, and if there is a better example of confirmation bias doing massive harm, I can’t think of it.

Epilogue

Today’s front page of the New York Times featured this:

The statement that Trump and others have “lied” about his defeat not being “fair” has been repeated in multiple articles and news reports since the 2020 election. But it was not fair. The election may not have been “fraudulent”—Trump’s imprecision of language again—but by no possible analysis was his defeat “fair.” Confirmation bias, which is always unfair, sabotaged his Presidency, and he feels that more strongly than anyone. He has every right to feel that the election that replaced him Joe Biden, who is even less well-suited to be President at this stage in his life than Trump had been, was unfair and indeed rigged by a four year effort to undermine him.

11 thoughts on “It’s Confirmation Bias, Stupid!

  1. It was confirmation bias. It’s really as simple as that. Even though the lawyers and agents involved in the investigation could not find the smoking gun evidence they were sure was there somewhere showing that Donald Trump and his odious minions conspired with America’s enemies to steal the 2016 election from its rightful winner, Hillary Clinton, they were absolutely certain that’s what happened, and still probably believe that’s what happened. They believed it fervently before the investigation ever began, and it poisoned the objectivity and the legitimacy of their work throughout.

    The Innocence Project has dealt with the effects of confirmation bias.

    But I was right. Bias makes you stupid, and if there is a better example of confirmation bias doing massive harm, I can’t think of it.

    Yes, it corrupted federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

    Now we can all see why Trump supporters believed that it was plausible that there was significant election fraud is

  2. I’m inclined to go with something even simpler than confirmation bias: they lied. Or, to be more charitable, they consciously refused to look at the most likely explanation. Also, although Trump did make an especially easy target, any Republican POTUS would have been (and will be in the future) attacked along similar lines.

    • It is worse than that. When you look at Peter Stzrok and what he did in the Michael Flynn investigation, that doesn’t look like confirmation bias, that looks like fabrication of evidence. When you find out that Strzok and Andrew Weissman were talking to Bruce Ohr about the Steele dossier and Nellie Ohr was doing research on Russia for Fusion GPS and may have helped write the Steele dossier, it doesn’t look like confirmation bias. When you find out that Bruce Ohr was the one who had a press conference with the media about Paul Mantafort, that doesn’t look like confirmation bias. When you find out that Bruce Ohr acted as a go-between for Mueller’s investigation to communicate with Steele off the books, it doesn’t look like confirmation bias. After all this, for Mueller to testify that he didn’t know what Fusion GPS was shows it wasn’t confirmation bias. This showed he lied. When you look at all of it, it looks a lot more like the Mueller investigation wasn’t misled by confirmation bias, it looks like they were in on it the whole time.

      • It’s still confirmation bias, though, just like “Touch of Evil.” Just like cops who lie to convict perps they just know are guilty. These people really believe—probably still believe—what they never could prove.

      • Of course to the left and the Democratic Party Mueller and all those people were “irreproachable” while all of this was going on. Then Mueller came to the end of the investigation and realized that, any way you sliced it, there was less here than there was when James Comey recommended that charges not be filed against Hilary. If he did, he would not only make himself appear to be the partisan hack he was taking pains to avoid looking like, but he might endanger his professional credentials. Suddenly though, he was totally reproachable and “didn’t do his job.” The only thing I can say in Mueller’s favor is that he didn’t let his confirmation bias lead him to take the final step he wouldn’t be able to walk back from. He also made damn sure he and his people were shielded from civil liability for detaining Muslims, but specifically barred the FBI from participating in enhanced interrogation of Muslims. The only thing he was ever interested in was protecting himself and his own.

  3. What’s really scary is that Christopher Steele is now being cited as an authority on Putin’s health during the unprovoked war he’s waging Ukraine.

    Steele, the former head of Bond alma mater MI6, says Putin is sick as a dog, while carefully not mentioning any sources, but stating he has “high confidence” in his data. Where is a retired spymaster/proven spin-doctor getting his intel? Why does anyone care what Steele has to say about anything now?

    I can only assume at this point Steele was hired by the Ukrainians, and Putin is perfectly healthy. It is madness that anyone would trust Steele, but bias makes you stupid. It might be newsworthy to report what he says, but you have to lead with the fact that his dossier is proven garbage (not hide the fact that most of it is debunked or “unsubstantiated” to the last paragraph). By holding him to be a trustworthy authority despite his proven interference in American elections, the media is setting the public up for more potential misinformation and propaganda.

    • Boy, am I ever with you, Rich. I thought it was bad enough when Alexander Vindman was trotted back on stage to opine about things Ukrainian. Now Steele? Are you kidding me? A paid liar is an expert on anything?

  4. Observing the AUC suffered from confirmation bias is like saying Hitler and Stalin were ill-tempered, which may have been true, but so what? All these swamp creatures were in on the get Trump effort from day one. They were all complicit. None of them wanted him in their sand box and they were perfectly fine with doing whatever it took to eject him from their sand box as soon as possible. It was their only concern for four years and continues to absorb them to this day and will continue to do so through the 2024 election. These people aren’t biased, they’re vicious. You can apply Hanlon’s Razor all you want, but you’re giving them a pass by doing so. The simplest explanation is the AUC is a bunch of self-interested, unscrupulous felons.

  5. Let’s apply the Trump eulogy above to a recent president and his spouse sainted by the AUC:

    “Make no mistake: Clinton himself lay the groundwork for much of that bias. The fact that he has always been loose with language and facts (“It depends on what the meaning of “is” is.”) caused him to be labeled a habitual liar, so everything he said that wasn’t precisely accurate became another lie. The fact that he (and his wife) talked (and acted) like a thug (behind closed doors or with interns and staff) helped fuel the assumption that he was a thug; that he was a salesman by nature (“I feel your pain.”) created the image that he was only a con man.” (And of course, there’s always, “I never had sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.)

    I think Trump’s 2016 win was a big “fuck you and the horse you rode in on” to the AUC. A significant portion of the electorate remains fed up with business as usual in The Swamp. Bill and Hillary Clinton are about as civil and within norms as a piranha. Frankly, so are the Obamas. They’re grifters on a Clintonian scale. They all just have a veneer of respectability in a completely corrupt demographic. Trump ripped the veneer away. If Trump’s an idiot, he’s an idiot savant. He single-handedly won the biggest electoral prize there is. And the “experts” have yet to figure out what the hell happened.

  6. If Mueller didn’t find this out, that means people were lying. Or, it means people are lying now. The sniff test says Clinton knew all about this. Trump’s tweet about being spied on by “Obama’s FBI” now seems like it may have been true. Feed the FBI information you knew was probably not true to start an investigation that would be led by people in the FBI hostile to Trump to make it look like Trump was guilty of colluding with Russia, thereby distracting from your own e-mail scandal and also scoring some hits against your political opponent.

    This story would require a massive amount of corruption. I don’t know if it runs this clean, but the Clinton campaign and someone in the FBI knew this wasn’t true and went with it anyway.

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