Debunk This!

Friday, July 03, 2009


This week, OTM talks about popular cultural myths that refuse to die. The first is a newbie but it seems to have staying power: the rumor that President Obama is a Muslim. A recent Pew study found that many Americans still believe it to be true, and many more simply don't know the President's religion. Political scientist Brendan Nyhan explains how misperceptions spread and says we can be incredibly stubborn in the face of facts.

Comments [21]

Matthew Gill from nd

I think whats more amazing is how people are so manipulated that they actually worry about what religion someone is. The FACT that information like an individuals religion is of concern to the average person is proof that religion itself is connected to mind the powers of persuasion...just because somebody says mind control doesnt mean they wear tinfoil hats...mind control and manipulation of facts is itself a fact... the media (ALL MEDIA) does it everyday.. the FACT (this website is proof of that reality) that people actually eat this stuff up shows how easily people are manipulated themselves...i would ask a better question...Is Barack Hussein Obama actually even a Democrat... and once again even that question... along with the two party system itself PROVES how people are manipulated... he said (lied) that he was always in direct opposition of the war on terror... it came right out of his mouth... he said he wanted to end the war in NOW... hes been in office how long and hes deployed MORE TROOPS to active theatres. You people are suckers.

Aug. 22 2009 07:22 PM
Todd Hanson from United States

Gary Wills' "Agonistes" book was Nixon Agonistes. There is a 2002 piece in the NY Times entitled Kennedy Agonistes that describes LBJ's leak to the Nixon campaign that JFK was on medication for Addison's. Whee did Fred Kaplan get the info that McNamara advised JFK to set a deadline to leave Vietnam?

Jul. 09 2009 09:09 PM
Philip from Brooklyn, NY

Just got to hear the podcast today. This was a very interesting show, particularly the JFK story. One thing that really would have rounded it out for me and summed it up, rather than Brook's frog story, comes from the film "The man who shot Liberty Valence" (1962)

Ransom Stoddard: You're not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?
Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Jul. 08 2009 09:52 AM

Obama is not a muslim. It is sad that a USA president has to defend his beliefs. It is better to be a good person than a certain religion. Its sad that a person has to convince people that he is not a muslim.

Jul. 08 2009 12:02 AM
David C Rowe from United States

This was a nice package of encore OTM material, but I hope Katherine Weymouth and The Washington Post abandoning its offer to sell lobbyists and business interests access to Obama administration officials and policymakers for $25,000 is featured on next week's show. What were they thinking?!

Jul. 07 2009 11:41 AM
ThresherK from the suburbs of DamnYankeeLand

Brendan Nyhan is a stand-up guy (Moore v. Coulter false equivalency aside). But at some point, as he realizes, professorial study on the subject is a way to dissect what went wrong, rather than a game plan.

This is the "tell", where is the "show"?

Where do I go to consume the howling gales of laughter to whomever proffers this "Obama is a Muslim" crap? How about your news updates, NPR?

Jul. 06 2009 11:22 AM
alaskanjuneau from Juneau Alaska

I loved this show and learned a lot from it. With the news of our governor quitting after only two years, there were people saying "she's going back to be a hockey mom". Palin is not just a hockey mom and has been involved in small town politics and shoving her way up for many years. Just like Rosa Parks wasn't just a tired woman who didn't want to have to get up from her seat in the bus, Palin has visions of greatness, but unfortunately it's personal greatness and not for the good of our state nor the nation. In an interview it was said the best "She likes being governor, but doesn't like governing."

Jul. 06 2009 02:53 AM
Greg Schneider from Angwin, CA

Loved the show, though I'm on board with KPNY about the false equivalence of Ann Coulter and Michael Moore. Just a quirky question about the concluding debunking of the frog-in-the-slowly-heating-pot legend: can you cite any study where someone actually tested some frogs? I dearly want to believe that frogs really are smarter than the legend suggests, but I need some data.

Jul. 06 2009 01:02 AM

I don't think he's a Muslim. I think he is a Christian with the most horrible preacher in the US! I do doubt his moral intelligence if he followed this heretic (God would not say the things that preacher said for he loves all races of mankind) for 20 years and considered him a personal friend. THAT I have a problem with.

As to the survey...wording means everything. And there are those who WANT to believe he is, either because they are Muslm and want to believe they have a president with their religion or because they want to find a reason to HATE a black president - ie - racists.

I want our president to succeed because if he fails our country fails. Did I vote for him? No, but it had nothing to do with his religion or his color - it was the ISSUES! Such as the second amendment, supporting our troops, and protecting our borders, and not giving my hard-earned money to folks who don't deserve it. Race and religion not the points!

Jul. 05 2009 11:02 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

There was a story in the New York Times and other mainstream publications asserting that under some interpretations of Muslim Law, the President would be considered by custom and by norm to be a follower of Islam.

I took candidate Obama and take President Obama at his word on this issue. The same way every free person should be able to define themselves and their religious practices.

The technical nature of the arguments found in the New York Times however do not comport with the questions asked by the researcher. This lack of external validity, of matching the context of the question with the context of the information out there in public debate makes the conclusions of Mr. Nyhan completely unsupported by social scientific methodology.

The difference is in the question wording of IS HE versus DOES HE CONSIDER HIMSELF. Two completely different ways to ask the question. Too bad IS HE illicited the researchers preferred, yet flawed, results.

Jul. 05 2009 09:21 PM

It is interesting that when Mr. Nyhan cites two examples of media extremists who consistently stretch and in some cases embellish the truth, it is only Ms. Coulter that is picked up by the NPR interviewer as the example to follow up on...

Jul. 05 2009 02:20 PM

Your program, in an earlier show, June 26?, was one of the few, if not the only one, that brought up the discrepancy between the "myth" of enhanced interrogation as propagated by NPR, among others, and the fact of torture as defined in international treaties and in our legal system and it's legal precedents. It's perhaps unfair then to criticize your program for not bringing up torture by enhanced euphemisms when your guest spoke about correcting the myth, weapons of mass destruction. But the two issues are so closely related that, as unfair as it may be to your program in particular, it still needed to be mentioned.

Jul. 05 2009 10:17 AM
Robert from NYC

The stupidity factor in this country is so high it just amazes me. This Muslim Obama and even worse the one that he is not a citizen are truly among the worst. The fact that we have people in the legislative branch that are questioning the president's citizenship is beyond my comprehension, how do such stupid, non-thinking folk become part of our government!! Well they're voted in by stupid people, really stupid people. It is very sad that we don't have an more educated populace or even one that want's to educate itself.

Jul. 05 2009 10:10 AM
Constance Clark

Love your program, and enjoyed the one today, but am puzzled by one thing: One of your guests mentioned a book by Garry Wills called "Kennedy Agonistes." I read both "Nixon Agonistes" and "The Kennedy Imprisonment" when they first came out, and as a long time fan of Garry Wills, think I would have heard of any book by him called "Kennedy Agonistes." Is my mameory failing me, or was this a slip of the tongue?

Jul. 05 2009 10:08 AM

Your guest mentioned Michael Moore and Anne Coulter in the same sentence as examples of extreme opinions that should get more judicious air time. This is a good example of the "equivalency" issue that the media, you in this case, propagate, since you did not call out your guest on it. Fact; Michael Moore is hardly ever heard about on the MSM, Ann Coulter is heard from and/or referenced in a neutral or friendly manner more frequently than Moore by a factor of ten, easily. Moreover, if checked against some fact finder site (not that of NPR for sure) Moore sticks to facts about 90 percent of the time compared to Coulter.

Another issue, deafeningly missing from your examples, is the "misconception" of torture that is fostered by your radio station which uses "enhanced interrogation" instead. Your organization doesn't find Bush and Cheney responsible enough to be correct about weapons of mass destruction yet you find the same pair responsible enough to re-define what constitutes torture. The fact that you didn't even mention this begs the question about who is qualified to identify, never mind to correct, these misconceptions.

Jul. 05 2009 08:18 AM

Prof. Nyhan says something about "how frequently people like Michael Moore & Ann Coulter distorted the facts". To my knowledge, though Michael Moore has a point of view, he has never perpetuated untruths like Ann Coulter. Mr. Moore has been painstaking about fact-checking for his movies. Can Mr. Nyhan point to one untrue assertion by Mr. Moore and especially one that has stuck as popular mythology? I suggest that "Michael Moore distorts the facts" is precisely one of the myths that Prof. Nyhan should be tracking down.

Jul. 04 2009 03:34 PM
Bing from St. Louis

I don't understand you're criticism, Matt. Are you saying that we can't know that Obama is a self-identifying Christian? Because we can. His father's religion is utterly irrelevant. I mean, they don't ask whether or not his mother is lactose-intolerant, but, then again, so what?

Jul. 04 2009 02:11 PM

It's not sisyphusean, it's sisyphean.

Sorry to be nitpicky, but language suffers enough these days without good journalists adding to the problem.

I expect better from the intelligent people at OTM, and you're messing with one of my favorite words... one that aptly describes the work I've done for a living the last thirty years.


Jul. 04 2009 10:10 AM
john staudenmaier sj from detroit

Here's another long lasting urban myth, that after the Detroit Tigers won the 1984 world series citizens erupted in a riot. I've lived in Detroit since 1981, on the faculty of the University of Detroit Mercy. One of our sociology profs of the time set his class to do a fact check comparison between Detroit's response to the series win and San Francisco's response to winning the super bowl in the same cycle (1985). Incidents more or less identical (number of arrests for drunk/disorderly; number of cars burned [v few in each case] etc.). Have you ever heard about San Francisco "rioting" after the 1985 superbowl? Me either. Detroit's "riot" turns up all over the place, often enough when a Detroit sports team wins a national championship.

Same old.

Jul. 04 2009 07:51 AM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

This research asks an impossible question and then marvels that the response is nonsensical. Definitely not good social science.

Jul. 03 2009 10:49 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

This public opinion survey is deeply flawed and does not measure what any American believes on the issue. The survey question does not take into account the position, prevalent at the time that because the President was born to a muslim father that Mr. Obama would be considered muslim too. Even if a person is 100% on board with the campaign narrative, if they had heard about the argument that then Senator Obama was an apostate due to his conversion to christianity, which was published in the New York Times they would not have been able to answer Mr. Nyhan's question correctly.

Such is the problem when an academic irresponsibly uses a campaign narrative to test the knowledge of all voters. I feel it is appropriate to use similar wording to Mr. Nyhan has no problem applying to those he disagrees with especially in his June 24th blog post about a health care Op-ED.

Looking at the guts of this survey it is clear that Mr. Nyhan is not an expert and has no credibility.

Jul. 03 2009 10:40 PM

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