Picking and Choosing– Benghazi Edition

Every so often, I’m reminded of an experience I had right after publication of my first  book, What’s a Nice Republican Girl Like Me Doing at the ACLU?  (Republicans were very different back then.) I was on a radio call-in show in South Carolina, and a caller challenged my defense of the Establishment Clause by “quoting” James Madison to the effect that “God gave the Bill of Rights to people who live in accordance with the Ten Commandments.”

When I (very politely) informed him that this quote had been debunked many times, that it was not only bogus but inconsistent with everything Madison did say, he yelled “Well, think it’s true!” and hung up.

Increasingly, it seems, we live in that man’s world.

A few weeks ago, I was at a dinner party; one of the guests was a local judge whom I have always admired. The wine flowed, and as it did, she shared her contempt for the President and the “liberal media” which– unlike “real news” sources like the Drudge Report (!)– had failed to tell citizens the truth about…wait for it…Benghazi!

Last Friday, what I believe to be the eighth Congressional investigation of the Benghazi tragedy–an investigation controlled and conducted by Republicans–once again found no cover-up, no administrative bad faith or lying. As CBS reported

WASHINGTON — The CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, a Republican-controlled House committee has found. Its report asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration officials.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the two-year investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

It is highly unlikely that this will change the minds of those–like my dinner companion–who prefer to believe in conspiracies. Slate recently reported recent research on the psychology of conspiracy theorists; as the story noted, millions of Americans believed that George W. Bush had engineered 9/11, despite the fact that:

To believe that the U.S. government planned or deliberately allowed the 9/11 attacks, you’d have to posit that President Bush intentionally sacrificed 3,000 Americans. To believe that explosives, not planes, brought down the buildings, you’d have to imagine an operation large enough to plant the devices without anyone getting caught. To insist that the truth remains hidden, you’d have to assume that everyone who has reviewed the attacks and the events leading up to them—the CIA, the Justice Department, the Federal Aviation Administration, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, scientific organizations, peer-reviewed journals, news organizations, the airlines, and local law enforcement agencies in three states—was incompetent, deceived, or part of the cover-up.

If believing in a conspiracy requires one to accept a long list of highly improbable/practically impossible things, why do so many Americans believe them?

Clearly, susceptibility to conspiracy theories isn’t a matter of objectively evaluating evidence. It’s more about alienation. People who fall for such theories don’t trust the government or the media. They aim their scrutiny at the official narrative, not at the alternative explanations. In this respect, they’re not so different from the rest of us. Psychologists and political scientists have repeatedly demonstrated that “when processing pro and con information on an issue, people actively denigrate the information with which they disagree while accepting compatible information almost at face value.” Scholars call this pervasive tendency “motivated skepticism.”

Conspiracy believers are the ultimate motivated skeptics. Their curse is that they apply this selective scrutiny not to the left or right, but to the mainstream. They tell themselves that they’re the ones who see the lies, and the rest of us are sheep. But believing that everybody’s lying is just another kind of gullibility.

I guess that explains my James Madison caller. But it doesn’t make me feel much better about either my dinner companion or the U.S. Representatives (like Indiana’s Susan Brooks) who clearly know better but are willing to play to the paranoia.


  1. Don’t you just have to laugh in their faces when they say there is a liberal media? I know I do and I remember when a childhood friend of mine laughed at me when I said that Rush Limbaugh was a racist pig. I looked at her dumbfounded and she admitted, I like Rush. Really? I said, I have to go. bub bye.
    A cousin of mine said that she really liked Glenn Beck’s book and (former) Fox News show. I said to her, you know he makes that s*it up right? She said, really? No, I believe him. Arghhhhh

    The stupid, it burns…

  2. Paranoia probably best describes the condition of GOP voters today and the reason they so readily accept any and everything dished out to them (us) through the media. Sad that a judge is among those suffering from this paranoia. Regarding Benghazi I have a question; I researched and read that host countries are required by international law to provide external security to all foreign embassies. If this is true, why wasn’t this an issue regarding the Benghazi attack and resulting deaths of Americans? The entire attack and the deaths were repeatedly blamed on President Obama and the Democratic party. Of course I don’t really need to ask the question because the answer is shoved down our throats daily regarding all problem issues being laid at President Obama’s feet – whether they are actual problems or not. The past attempt at a law suit and the current law suit WE are paying for are prime examples.

    As for blaming Bush for a conspiracy resulting in 9/11; much as it pains me to stand up for this silly man on any issue, I must regarding this tragedy. I believe blame can be laid at the feet of elected officials, including presidents, over the years due to their vaulted egos. They (we) have operated under the belief that no foreign country would/could ever have the nerve to attack the United States of America on our home ground. We know better now and can only hope we are more watchful and better prepared to prevent future attacks.

    If you want to talk conspiracy; let’s go back to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 11, 1963, and the ensuing “investigations”. It is a blatant conspiracy to lock many of the investigative findings in the national archives for 100 years; assuring everyone who remembers this tragedy will no longer be alive to learn the facts. If there is no conspiracy to hide involving this government in that assassination; what IS being hidden? Or am I being paranoid?

  3. RE: Susan Brooks. It matters little if she IS a nut or just VOTES like a nut. The results are exactly the same. Yuck.

  4. The Benghazi story is doubly amusing because Sean Hannity was selling it as the last straw for the President and how extensive the coverup was and included Hillary and others. It will be difficult for Hannity, Limbaugh, etc. to deal with this one – oh wait: they can always fabricate an alternative version that their sponsors and listeners can still believe

  5. Conspiracy theories do have roots. Since 1945 the USA Government has engaged in a series of operations, which include assassinations, coups and out right wars. A large part of the Iranian blow back towards the USA can be traced back to a 1953 Coup, which installed the Shah. Among the Operations the USA has engaged in are Operation Mongoose, Operation Paperclip and Operation Mockingbird. Operation Northwoods was plan scuttled by the Kennedy Administration.

    The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the WMD’s in Iraq were lies and/or gross fabrications of the truth. Both events were used as pretexts for war. Hundreds of thousands of American Soldiers killed or wounded, and millions of Asians. Recently we had the revelations of Edward Snowden and the massive program of electronic spying.

    So if there are people who see conspiracies everywhere there are reasons for this.

  6. Part of my Climate Science Lite lecture is a thought that occured to me.

    Those that rely on science are called educated. Those that rely on pseudoscience are called opinionated.

    In many fields including climate science our culture has been dragged into the swamp where folks either are unable to distinguish between fact and opinion, or merely choose to live their lives based on what they prefer reality to be rather than what it is.

    I personally don’t care if people choose fantasy for their own lives as long as it remains their own fantasy. But, what responsible people choose is reality and critical thinking to figure out how to leave their mark on progress.

    We are unfortunately caught in a political backwater at the moment where fantasy has become political capital and those unencumbered by critical thinking skills have become a powerful political proxy.

    Those that are entertaining in small numbers have become too numerous and too easily have become prey for oligarchs.

    Some say that critical thinking can be taught and that’s the solution. Others say that cultural cognition is a human condition and can’t be mitigated. I’m enough of an intellectual to believe that we can figure this thing out and avoid this evolutionary trap as we have averted so many others.

    Kudos to Sheila for hosting this intellectual filling station every single day. An oasis of reason in an otherwise bleak fantasyland.

    It’s strange that whoever picks icons chose an elephant for the saying “you eat the elephant one bite at a time”. Do you suppose he had another iconic elephant in mind?

  7. I know and respect both Representatives Susan Brooks and Luke Messer. Both are intelligent, thoughtful and generally, good people, but I do wonder how they are succeeding in the current House Republican Caucus.

  8. Believing that GW Bush had anything at all to do with running the US government is a conspiracy theory of its own. If Bush was real, how do you account for President Cheney?

  9. Mississippi is spelled M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i, or at least that’s what is on the state line sign a few miles from here. But I digress.

    Benghazi is over and no longer linked to Hillary in more rational circles. It never was…in those circles! GW Bush is surely over and also no longer mentioned in more rational circles. The same goes for Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Be advised that Jeb and Hillary may provide another Bush-Clinton situation. Now, won’t that be interesting? A world of folks (far too many) will think that Shrub and Bill are somehow running again. That thought makes my sinuses ache!

  10. I can tell you from personal experience why one individual I know is an ardent 9/11 “truther”. This sole fact has become such a point of contention in my marriage that neither of us bring it up because we know the resulting conversation will not end pretty.

    My husband is college educated, speaks three languages, and from Mexico City. When we met in 1999 I was thrilled to meet someone just as passionate about politics and civics as I was and we had many long conversations on the history and states of each of our respective country political systems.

    After 9/11 his intense distrust in government led him to the truther movement where he watched and read everything he could find and was dismayed at the level of skepticism I had for it. His response to my skepticism to this day is one of bewildered fury “you’re an incredibly smart person- how could you NOT see the truth in this?!” And I get it because I ask the same damned question of him. I simply have not seen enough evidence to convince me otherwise and the result of my failure to convert has been to be summarily painted with that tired broad “ignorant American government sympathizer” brush which is incredibly comical to say the least.

    His immense distrust of government is understandable considering the size and scale of corruption in Mexico. (Recent events with the 43 missing and murdered students being a mere drop in the bucket of corruption there) I agree with him that the US HAS committed some pretty atrocious violations of rights throughout history and that there are probably many more back room deals and false flag operations we may never know about, but the idea that 9/11 was an inside job strikes me as *really* grasping for straws.

    Honestly- I think our government is too inept to have pulled off something THAT big – THAT smoothly and with so few people (who would have been necessary to create such an elaborate ruse) stepping out of the shadows to gain notoriety with leaked documents or tell-all exposes detailing their involvement and how they tried to stop the government from their insidious plan. If anyone could have gained by now in playing the “Hero” card I think they would have.

    Were there massive mistakes made before, during & after 9/11?
    Absolutely & undeniably

    Is our political system THAT organized and depraved?
    I don’t think we’re there just yet

  11. If you didn’t read TV Critic David Zurawik’s recent article on Fox News you might want to listen to him cover the same thing here:


    The fact is that like it or not (not, for me) the judge at your dinner party is no longer just a kook (showing my age with that one) but rather just another of millions of mainstream consumers of the the most dominant news outlet in the US today. That’s even scarier. A lot.

    There have always been the ‘truthers’ among us – many years ago they used to read “Grit Magazine”, but now the whole mindset and how to play to it has been co-opted by some of the most dominant “news” sources available on TV, radio or the web such as Fox, Rush, Beck, Drudge, etc. More often than not, they don’t report news so much as introduce their minions to “the next thing you’re not going to believe is true”. And even the politician’s have caught onto it….Lindsay Graham’s recent attack on the House Intelligence Committee report on Benghazi as “full of crap” comes to mind.

    It is a very sad day when the only reliable sources of TV news in this country are C-Span, the BBC, PBS and Al Jazeera America.

  12. Sorry to post more than my share of replys but I just came across this and it is so pertinent to the topic that I had to share. Be sure to watch the video at the bottom and MAKE SURE you have no sharp objects in your hands or you may gouge your own eyes and ears out. But the point of this reply is to demonstrate how some people are just really really REALLY not very smart. But they DO have all kinds of venues in which to share and spread their stupidity, and of course, we have major cable, radio and internet infotainment channels further enabling these people by adopting the “trust no one else for facts” mindset.



  13. The first thought I had when reading about the judge you spoke of was “and this is the type of person we vote in to office and allow to make decisions that will dramatically affect the lives of others”. I’ve known for a long time that many judges can be very biased and will completely ignore actual facts that are presented in court. It seems that there should be some form of “in-depth question and answer” public interview that would expose potential judges from being voted in to office if they do not have the mental capacity to make judgements based upon facts.

    Regarding the fact that Republicans controlled the Benghazi investigation, it sure would be nice if the on-air idiots that spend their waking hours attacking President Obama would spend just as much time telling their listeners that they were wrong and there was no conspiracy. Wait, that would require them to be honest. How silly of me. (I do not listen to their crap – I only cringe and get angry when I come into contact with local idiots that swallow their koolaid). Sigh….

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