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Morning Feature – A Method to the Madness, Part I: ‘Shocking New’ Obama Video

March 8, 2012

Morning Feature

Morning Feature – A Method to the Madness, Part I: ‘Shocking New’ Obama Video

You may have seen the shocking new video of President Obama speaking at Harvard in 1990. But do you know What Really Happened? (More)

A Method to the Madness, Part I: ‘Shocking New’ Obama Video

This week Morning Feature explores the psychology of conspiracy theories and their believers. Today we examine the ‘shocking new’ video of President Obama at Harvard. Tomorrow we’ll consider the bizarre speculation about President Obama’s role in the tragic death of Andrew Breitbart. Saturday we’ll conclude with stunning proof that President Obama refuses to discuss the extraterrestrial plot to colonize earth.

Oh sure, that’s what They say….

Legal scholars who studied critical race theory will recognize the name Derrick Bell. As a professor at Harvard Law School and elsewhere, Bell was among the pioneers of critical race theory and his book Race, Racism, and American Law – originally published in 1973 – remains a standard text in that discipline. In brief, critical race theory proposes that a just legal system cannot ignore systemic inequalities in society at large. For example, Bell criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in Regents of California v. Bakke for “introducing an artificial and inappropriate parity in its reasoning” in overturning racial quotas for college admissions. That is hardly a radical view. Four Supreme Court Justices argued the same issue in concurring opinions that limited Bakke‘s reach.

In 1990, Professor Bell took an unpaid leave of absence at Harvard Law School, saying he would not return until the school hired a woman of color. Barack Obama, then president of the Harvard Law Review, spoke at a student rally in support of Professor Bell. A camera team from Boston’s WGBH Ten O’Clock News recorded the rally, and broadcast their footage that evening. Producers at PBS’ Frontline learned about the Harvard rally video in 2008, and included an excerpt in their 2008 documentary The Choice. The New York Times mentioned President Obama’s speech at the rally in their 2011 obituary of Professor Bell. Last night, PBS posted the complete footage from WGBH’s archive:

But that’s just The Official Story….

“The Truth Is Out There”

From 1993-2002, millions of Americans avidly watched The X-Files, a television series premised on a secret FBI unit investigating extraterrestrials and other paranormal activity, whose work was always thwarted by a shadowy global conspiracy. The series made the phrase “The Truth Is Out There” into a cultural touchstone. Conspiracy theories are a vast trove of bizarre ideas. Indeed University of Kent psychologist Karen Douglas found that believers often accept contradictory theories:

They also asked 102 students about the death of Osama bin Laden last year. The students rated how much they agreed with statements purporting that: bin Laden had died in the American raid; he is still alive; he was already dead when the raid took place; the Obama administration appears to be hiding information about the raid.

Once again, people who believed bin Laden was already dead before the raid were more likely to believe he is still alive. Using statistical analysis, the researchers determined that the link between the two was explained by a belief that the Obama administration was hiding something.

The central idea – that authorities are engaged in massive deceptions intended to further their malevolent goals – supports any individual theory, to the point that theorists can endorse contradictory ones, according to the team.

As the study concluded: “Believing that Osama bin Laden is still alive is apparently no obstacle to believing that he has been dead for years.”

That conclusion may seem completely illogical, but there is a certain logic beneath it. Conspiracy theorists may not be sure what The Truth is, but they are sure of one thing: The Official Story is not The Truth. Thus, any Not The Official Story is likely to be true … including Not The Official Stories that plainly contradict each other, such as “Bin Laden is still alive” and “Bin Laden was already dead when the raid took place” or – from the researchers’ earlier study – “Princess Diana faked her death to escape the public eye” and “Princess Diana was murdered.”

“I hid this during the 2008 campaign”

Fox News‘ Todd Starnes broke this shocking revelation yesterday:

Harvard University Law School professor Charles Ogletree admitted that he hid controversial video footage featuring a college-age President Obama speaking at a campus rally in support of a radical professor.

“I hid this during the 2008 campaign,” Ogletree said in the video. “I don’t care if they find it now.”

Professor Ogletree’s claim seems to confirm the Fox News conspiracy theory of hidden information … except for the inconvenient reality of PBS having broadcast the video in 2008, and the New York Times mentioning it last October in Professor Bell’s obituary. But not to worry, the conspiracy mongering continues:

Earlier today, Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith announced on Twitter that video researcher Andrew Kaczynski had released “the mysterious Harvard/Obama/race video that the Breitbart folks have been talking about.” … However, the video has been selectively edited – either by the Boston television station or by Buzzfeed itself. Over the course of the day, will be releasing additional footage that has been hidden by Obama’s allies in the mainstream media and academia.

And what does the “additional footage that has been hidden by Obama’s allies in the mainstream media and academia” show?

At the end of the speech, Angry Black Lady Chronicles founder Imani Gandy reveals, Barack Obama hugged Professor Bell. I know you just fainted, so I’ll pause until you wake up.

Welcome back.

For the record, even Fox News viewers voted Starnes’ story “Offensive.” But that didn’t stop the network from covering the footage wall-to-wall last night. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s step two of the six-step attack strategy discussed by David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt in The Fox Effect. Expect step three today, with Fox News hosts complaining that other news outlets aren’t covering this ‘controversy.’

What’s so controversial? As Starnes writes, “Bell has been described as the Jeremiah Wright of academia.” Okay, by whom? Several right-wing bloggers compare the two. That’s about it. But Professor Bell is part of The Networks, whatever they are. (You can relax. BPI doesn’t appear on a search of The Networks. Yet….) What’s more, Professor Bell was protesting on behalf of Regina Austin, who “appears to now work for the University of Pennsylvania, has donated to Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign, and teaches students to use documentary filmmaking techniques on behalf of ‘social justice’.”

Please stop fainting. We’re almost to The Truth that’s Out There. Ready?

The Official Story is that Professor Bell was a widely-respected legal scholar, albeit disliked by conservatives, and a pioneer of critical race theory. Then-student Barack Obama attended at least one of the rallies supporting Professor Bell’s demand for greater faculty diversity, spoke briefly, hugged Professor Bell, and went back to his studies and his duties as president of the Harvard Law Review. A Boston television news crew recorded and broadcast parts of that rally, PBS included excerpts in a 2008 documentary, and the New York Times mentioned the president’s speech in Professor Bell’s 2011 obituary. That is The Official Story.

And, per The X-Files Principle of Epistemology, The Official Story cannot be The Truth. So any Not The Official Story will do, no matter how inconsistent with the evidence or even another Not The Official Story.

Now you can faint.


Happy Thursday!

  • addisnana

    A confession: There were times during the Bush Presidency when I was convinced that I was not being told the truth and that it was “out there” somewhere. The secret energy task force and the rush to war in Iraq are two examples that come to mind.

    I confess because I get how this works. If you begin with a strong bias against the main actor (Bush in my case or Obama in the story today) you will believe things that support your biases. Those beliefs can be “fact-based” or “ET’s are hiding’ stuff.

    Believing is seeing.

    The headlines around the video are so exaggerated they are comical.

    • glendaw271

      That is so true, addisnana. For a brief time, I was willing to believe some things that are now attributed to ‘truthers’. That is, until I realized that the stuff just could be because of coincidences and the fact that Bush didn’t seem to be able to carry off anything that was that complicated.

      Can you tell that I still have a strong bias against Bush?

      • Gardener

        Hey! You put “Bush” and “complicated” in the same sentence…… 😉

      • winterbanyan

        Well, for all Bush declared he was “The Decider” I still suspect Cheney was the de facto president.

        Even though the G-8 summit has been traditionally held in quiet, more private places, Obama moving it to Camp David from Chicago where it was to precede the NATO meetings has unleashed a tidal wave of suspicious theories. Never mind that the participants will still attend the NATO meeting in Chicago and be subject to all the protests….

    • NCrissieB

      There’s a significant difference between “The Official Story is inconsistent with these observable facts” and “this story must be false because it’s The Official Story.”

      Much of the distrust of the Bush administration was grounded stories that were inconsistent with observable facts: there were no WMDs in Iraq, the war did not “pay for itself,” the insurgency was not “in its last throes,” Michael Brown and FEMA were not “doin’ a heckuva job” in New Orleans, etc. It became entirely reasonable to conclude that the Bush administration was not a reliable source … especially in light of Karl Rove’s stated attitude of “we create our own reality.”

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

      • addisnana

        I agree totally. Fox has fed their audience so many lie based theories that one more is not a surprise. Since their audience already believes a load of this crap this is just more of the “poo stew” to borrow a phrase from Gardener.

        I wish there was someway the FCC could enforce something about the facts and news or revoke the Fox news license. The idea that Fox can claim to be a news organization greatly offends me.

  • glendaw271

    What really gets me about the Breitbart version of events is that the PBS version was ‘edited’. In one sense, it seems that it was edited – to make the video clearer and easier to view. But by using ‘edited’, the Breitbart followers are insinuating that there is something nefarious that is left out of the official version. People who have viewed the two versions side by side have indicated that there is nothing substantially different except for the quality of the video.

    But then again, it’s been ‘edited’.

    • NCrissieB

      There is no question that the footage was edited … by WGBH back in 1990. Both PBS and WGBH acknowledge that:

      And while there does appear to be editing in the footage available, that was almost certainly done in 1990. The Ten O’Clock News practice was to store completed segments as aired along with any relevant additional footage that might be useful in the future.

      What did WGBH cut out in 1990? No one knows or will ever know. Probably miscellaneous crowd shots and other footage they didn’t think was useful.

      But it’s not WGBH’s responsibility to prove then-student Obama did not yell “Death to America!” while holding a copy of the Quran in one hand and a copy of Das Kapital in the other, with his original Kenyan birth certificate hanging out of his shirt pocket. Those who make such claims have burden of proof that he did … and they can’t meet that burden.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • LI Mike

    We used to make fun of the John Birch Society for its outlandish takes on historical and current events, now it’s just Fox News every day stuff.

    • NCrissieB

      That’s frighteningly true, Mike. ::sigh::

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • winterbanyan

    I’m not fainting, but I’m certainly dizzy. I am quite certain I have changed my mind about things, and during the changing process, the tension between two beliefs or ideas has been extremely uncomfortable. But I did change my mind. Or not, depending.

    The idea that a person can accept conflicting beliefs simply because they hold a deeper belief that the government hides things, kind of boggles my mind.

    In that world, no amount of truth can change a mind. “Well, of course they’d say that, because they’re hiding the truth.”

    I have no trouble with being suspicious of my government. It has lied to me many times over my lifetime. But I still haven’t gotten to the conspiracy theories that can hold contradictory ideas at the same time. I must be lacking some ability in mental gymnastics.

    • NCrissieB

      Without going too deep into the epistemological weeds, logicians usually classify claims as True or False. That’s useful enough, when we know if a claim is True or False. But in Realworldia, we often don’t know if a claim is True or False … and adding the value Unknown creates curious twists in classical logic. For example, consider this simple table:

      Not True = False
      Not False = True

      Okay, so far. But what about:

      Not Unknown = ?

      Hrmm. Well, someone knows the claim is either True or False. (“The Truth Is Out There.”) But “Not Unknown” does not tell us whether someone knows the claim is True … or someone knows the claim is False. So:

      Not Unknown = Unknown

      That feels illogical, and it is indeed a paradox. But it is also entirely logical … and many conspiracy theories fall apart because they ignore that paradox. They resolve Not Unknown – “The Truth Is Out There” – as True or False, according to the conspiracy theorists’ whim.

      But it’s a tad bit more complex than that. Most of us don’t often settle for True, False, or Unknown. We add even more intermediate values: Possibly, Maybe, Probably, I’m Almost Sure, etc.

      So when someone answers “Yes” to both “Osama bin Laden was already dead before the raid” and “Osama bin Laden is still alive,” I’d bet their thinking is along the lines of “While both cannot be true, either of those Not The Official Stories is more likely to be true than The Official Story that Osama bin Laden was killed in the raid.”

      But by the time that gets measured in a True/False/Unknown format … “more likely to be true” becomes True … for both … even though both cannot possibly be true.

      Does that help?

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

      • winterbanyan

        Actually, yes it does. Thanks! Now I’d like to see a study of the underlying reasoning here. You may be right about how it resolves, and how it doesn’t fit into standard logical evaluation.

  • Gardener

    Seems to me that the whole CT business began when they decided to keep the Warren Commission stuff secret for 100 years……

    • glendaw271

      The Warren Commission was a big job creator. Just think of all the money made off of the various theories that came about because it’s still a big secret.

    • addisnana

      I’m thinking that Conspiracy theories are as old as “et tu Brutus” and probably even older. Modern media just means they travel faster.

  • Gardener

    BTW, was on my way to Cambodia in ’70 when Tricky Dick went on national TV and announced the withdrawal of all American forces from there. A few weeks later, chanced to meet another American who said: “I’m from the airbase up the road. Biggest (dang) airbase you ever seen. We wear civvies all the time, live in town, best duty I ever had!”

    • winterbanyan

      Now that’s fascinating, Gardener. Thanks!

    • NCrissieB

      The Official Story is not always The Truth, as your story shows, Gardener. Our government does conceal information – for good reasons, and for bad reasons – and sometimes that concealment includes disinformation. So where does that leave us? There are three choices:

      Gullible – “That is The Official Story, so it must be True.”
      Cynical – “That is The Official Story, so it must be False.”
      Skeptical – “That is The Official Story, and now let’s look at the evidence.”

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • Jim W

    One of the most difficult Sunday School lessons is the difference between beliefs based on personal experience and those based on revelation to selected believers.

    The test becomes more difficult when you have to separate reports of experience from reports of revelation. Then there is the problem of separating these from disinformation.

    • NCrissieB

      That’s a good point, Jim. In principle, I’m skeptical (see above) about claims based on revelation to selected believers. That said, for me the truth of any claim also depends what if any action the claimant wants me to take based upon that claim.

      If you tell me you saw a giraffe at the DMV office yesterday, and all you want me to do is laugh at a joke, I’ll accept that claim for purposes of laughing at the joke.

      If you tell me you saw a giraffe at the DMV office registering to vote, and this proves we need stricter rules for voter registration … I’ll need to see a whole lot of evidence….

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::