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Date: 26 October, 2012
Photo of Mitt Romney by Gage Skidmore.
'Quotes attributed ... for satirical effect, were disseminated by others as if they were truth.'
Helen Angove discovers that those who dabble in the grubby side of politics may have a point.
Apparently I live in a country that is being run by an Islamic extremist who is implementing a veiled agenda of undermining everything that is good and true about American society - up to and including apple pie.
The place of his birth disqualifies him from the public office he holds and he has family links to African terrorist organisations.
As we approach the Presidential elections, all the old chestnuts are dragged out again.
I can quote a few that have been disseminated about the other side, as well.
Did Mitt Romney really say, “of course I’ll win, I’m the white guy,” or claim that he could “relate to black people,” because his ancestors owned slaves, or say that he was “too important to go to Vietnam”?
Of course he didn’t. They were quotes attributed to him for satirical effect, which were then disseminated by others as if they were truth.
Like all smears, these things are effective because they have some kind of vague connection to something near the truth.
Mr Obama’s background is considerably more culturally varied than that of many of his countrypeople and it is not surprising that this incites a degree of paranoia in those who distrust foreign influence.
Mr Romney, on the other hand, in many ways epitomizes white, patriarchal, middle-class privilege, and one can hardly be shocked if satire based on this perception is sometimes mistaken for truth.
The most egregious of these lies are easily dismissed (at least, one hopes) by the majority of voters.
Obama is not going to have us all bowing to Mecca five times a day, and Romney is unlikely to bring more than one wife with him into the White House (in fact the mainstream denomination of the Mormon Church that Romney belongs to has not condoned polygamy since 1890).
The real problem is the subtler mishandling of the truth. During the recent presidential debates, both sides have been accused of massaging the truth, and even of outright lies.
Twitter and Facebook can be relied upon (I have discovered) to update me on these abuses of the truth whenever they occur: but my social media experience is hardly balanced: it is inexorably shaped by my political prejudices. How, then, do I discover what is truth, and what is smear?
The information age deluges us with data: it may make truth checking easier than it ever was before, but it also makes the dissemination of lies easier as well – and someone will always believe them.
I have neither the time, nor the will to check every allegation for myself, and even if I did, how do I find authoritative information? All I can do is rely on news sources and websites that seem to me to be trustworthy, and hope for the best.
And thus it is that I find my point of connection with the most deluded 'birtherist': when all is said and done, I fall back on my own prejudices.
I find that I am genuinely scared of the “wrong” candidate getting in - I do not want to live in a country that is led by a person that holds those ideals.
And suddenly I discover that, although I can’t condone their methods, I have some sympathy with the smear-mongers…
Helen Angove began her working life as an electrical engineer on the south coast of England, took a brief detour as a pricing analyst for an electricity supply company (which was as much fun as it sounds) and then veered off in a different direction altogether by becoming a priest in the Church of England.
Now, however, she is living with her husband and two children in Southern California and, against all the dictates of common sense, is exploring the possibility of writing as a viable career choice.
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