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Is Obama the Antichrist? And other questions that exploit your fears

Monday, October 11, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

“Barack Hussein Obama has 18 letters in his name. That’s 6+6+6, or 666. Get it?”

This is getting scary. We live in a time where media (whether television, radio, internet, newspapers or social media) is ever-present. That can be good. And it can be very, very bad. When Americans heard rumors on television about President Obama being a Muslim, they went in droves to the internet to learn more about the rumors. (And naturally, those who were more receptive to a Fox News “fair and balanced” perspective went to those sorts of websites and those who were more receptive to more liberal perspectives—went their own way.) Interestingly, given the financial difficulties of newspapers, those people who read longer, more detailed, and comprehensive stories in the newspaper never bothered to search the web for more information. They were satisfied they had the whole story. If you have not read the entire Slate article on why we believe propaganda—it would be an eye-opening experience.

We’ve been seeing research papers (one after another) reminding us that we choose to believe facts that fit with our preconceived notions and we ignore facts in disagreement. New research (summarized by Douglas LaBier in a Psychology Today blog) is showing that we tend to believe false representations about Obama when we are reminded of ways he is different than us (whether that difference is racial, class, or something else).  What is striking about the research is that simply thinking about the category of difference (e.g., race) was enough to get study participants to believe the smear.

“One might say that the research findings confirm what’s not hard to intuit – that perceived differences from an “alien other” can make one receptive to lies or stereotypes. Shrewd, agenda-driven individuals and political movements can easily exploit that. A good example is the current controversy over former House majority leader Newt Gingrich’s recent comments to the National Review Online alleging that Obama is driven by a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” mindset that governs the President’s actions, which he called “authentically dishonest” and “factually insane.”

Gingrich’s comments on the National Review’s website were inspired, he said, by a Forbes article by Dinesh D’Souza, who writes that Obama is essentially channeling the soul of his late Kenyan-born father, an African “tribesman of the 1950s.” D’Souza writes that “This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anti-colonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.”

These sorts of messages reinforce the idea that Obama is not like us. He is the other. The outsider. The alien. He does not share our hopes, dreams and visions for the future. LaBier says he is optimistic these strategies will backfire as people begin to realize that we are more similar than different. He cites a piece published in the Columbia Journalism Review as evidence that Americans are beginning to see this manipulation for what it is. We hope he’s right. And in the meantime, we think there are things for you to do in court.

We have long advocated for making your witnesses, your parties and yourselves “like” your jurors.  You’ll see that advice repeatedly if you look through our blog posts on witness preparation.  It has never been more true. Our society is divided and the media isn’t helping to bring us together. Don’t give up on finding a way to bring jurors together in your courtroom presentation.

Focus on similarities rather than differences to increase the likelihood of a jury finding for a party.

Focus on differences rather than similarities to increase the likelihood of a jury finding against a party.

And if the television and internet distortions and half-truths leave you wanting to tear your hair out in frustration, take a break and read the funniest version of the madness, “Poll: 1 in 5 Americans Believe Obama is a Cactus”, brought to you by “American’s Finest News Source”, The Onion. It is written with the same pseudo-authoritative gravitas used by the other “news sources”, but it will make you laugh instead of cry.

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