Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Scandal Distractions: Conspiracy or Stupidity

       YOU ARE ^
One of the more interesting conjectures is that, facing the explosive Benghazi scandal, Obama called up the High-frequency Active Auroal Research Project and ordered up a tornado to take the media pressure off his about-to-be-busted ass. Or, maybe he just sent in a construction team with wrecking balls to make it look like a tornado? How about just some good old fashioned weather seeding? Nahh--probably HAARP*:
The upshot of this is as follows: if you believe that (a) Benghazi is about to end Obama and (b) that anything that distracts from that in the media will possibly save him and (c) everything happens for a reason--usually a reason caused by the Shadow Government--then anything that distracts from the Benghazi (or IRS?) narrative must have been caused by Obama.
Of course there have been no shortage of distractions that have been caused by other forces. We covered Umbrella-Gate last time. In eight short days there has been handshake-gate and a cruise ship fire ... and a bunch of other stuff. I's almost like someone was just creating distractions and a willing media was eating it up to keep our minds off the important stuff*.

On the other hand, the weather has generally been kind to Obama. Consider:
  1. A hurricane damaged the momentum of the GOP convention in Florida (suspicious!).
  2. Obama's convention speech was rained out--which was good for him since no one was coming to it anyway.
  3. Super Storm Sandy gave Obama the election!
  4. Katrina really damaged Bush's reputation which hurt Romney even though it wasn't his fault.
Maybe it isn't random at all? I mean, there's a theory about this, isn't there? Here's the real question: would it be to the administration's advantage to cause scandals to avoid scrutiny?

Would It Work?
The question as to whether generating a secondary scandal such as the IRS would actually distract from a developing "real" scandal like Benghazi--or creating killer weather would shift focus--has to be placed in context: what does it achieve? What happens if it failed--if Obama couldn't cause that tornado?

What It Achieves
To be honest, there can be little question that there is a saturation point at which news consumers actively tune out some items of interest: The linked study found that about 30% of respondents reported moderate information overload, 20% found it high--and almost 10% found it very high. As such, the more "news" you can cram into the cycle the greater the chance that any one story will get deprecated by one or more user.

As such, if you are fighting for control of the narrative, you are, to some degree, fighting for control of the headline. Let's assume that we are doing exactly that: that there are various political forces and they all want control of exactly one piece of a traditional newspaper: the headline. What are the "rules" for headlines? Here's some scholarly thinking:
  1. The headline should be as short as possible.
  2. The headline should be clear, easy to understand, unambiguous.
  3. The headline should be interesting (meaning: relevant to the readers)
  4. The headline should contain new information.
  5. The headline should not presuppose information unknown to the readers (i.e. definitely new--but not overly new).
  6. Headline should include names with high value to the reader (known names).
  7. Headlines should not contain low-value names (people I've never heard of. The example is leaving 'Clinton' in a headline--but taking out Lewinski)
  8. Headlines should connect the story to known facts and events
  9. Headlines can connect the story to prior events and expectations.
  10. Headlines should frame the event appropriately.
Let's compare some potential scandals against each other using these criteria:
  • IRS vs. Benghazi: The IRS scandal is much easier to understand (Targeted Conservative Groups) whereas Benghazi is considerably more difficult (some kind of cover-up by parties unknown). The IRS on-going narrative works better too: as it unravels the question is "how high did it go." With Benghazi, this is the 'same question' but the method of asking is far murkier: there's a blizzard of emails, questions about "who ordered the stand-down" vs. "who changed the talking points" vs. "what was really going on there?" The more complex Benghazi narrative would lose to the new-or-mostly-new questions as well: it's been around so long there is no saying what a typical person might understand about it. The IRS Scandal Is a Better Headline Grabber.
  • IRS vs. Associated Press / Fox News: Holder isn't high-value to most people so Holder's name on the headline isn't far better than Some-IRS-Person. The AP scandal also has problems with easy-to-understand. While the IRS story can be told in one line (and, using Nate Silver's criteria, cannot easily be refuted in one sentence) the AP story is harder: what information were they gathering? Why? What exactly was the problem with that? These are far more complex questions and thus make it a less attractive headline than the IRS Scandal. The IRS Wins!
  • Oklahoma Tornado vs. IRS: While Oklahoma doesn't have big names, the concepts (a devastating tornado and people killed) are gripping and easily understood. It bleeds too--and while not one of the criteria--I think we all know what happens when it bleeds. As new events unfold (heroic teachers!) these fit easily into the narrative. There will be more new information more often--the pacing of the tornado is faster than either the IRS or Benghazi--as such, it is a more preferable headliner. Tornado Wins.
By this measure it would be to an administration's advantage--if they were concerned about just one headline--to roll out something like the IRS scandal rather than Benghazi. Or generate a tornado if they could.

If my analysis suggests that, indeed, there is some advantage to having a heavy news cycle when you have things going wrong, isn't it reasonable that someone might try to engineer that sort of thing ... if they could?

The answer is no. What the above explains is why your particular story (which is Benghazi) isn't showing up on the front page over and over like you wish it were so the sheeple would wake up. You are (for some versions of 'you') confusing cause with effect (which, for some versions of 'you,' you are, of course, wont to do). 

The real truth of the matter here is that even if the Obama administration felt they could release scandals to manipulate the news cycle it would certainly not be to their advantage. The hazy storm of scandal and scandal-like things just confuses and depresses everyone. Whether the media is headlining the IRS doesn't slow down the investigation one bit. How people vote in 2014 is largely decided already and the question is "which demographics will turn out" and not "how do people feel about Obama?"

In other words, the whole questions about whether or not scandals are being manufactured to manipulate the media turns on exactly one person: You. When you don't like the headline then you decide it must be someone's plan to rob you of the Benghazi coverage you deserve. Your analysis is skin-deep: if the press isn't showing the story you want, someone's being manipulated.

But not you--never you.

And Why Doesn't It Work On You?
The fundamental question you should be asking, when you get down to it, is why you aren't ever fooled into chasing your own tail? The answer, of course, is because you are special. Even if you excuse it by chalking up your clarity of view to the media you select (Fox? Limbaugh? Pajamas Media?) the real reason you have decided you are not being subjected to this is that (a) the outrage feels good and (b) not being fooled feels special.

Those two emotional hits are what's behind the whole Obama-controls-the-weather thing or the OMG-They're-Reporting-On-Trivia thing. This isn't to say that media manipulation is impossible (it isn't: Operation Mockingbird) and it isn't to say that the media doesn't have its own blackouts (Gosnell--it does). It just means you aren't capable of seeing through them the way you think you are. What happened with Gosnell is entirely different than what happened with Oklahoma or the IRS Scandal ... or Benghazi.

How can I prove they're different? Easy: just read the headlines.

* The whole HAARP deal is based on the idea that scores of people--over multiple administrations--would keep this deadly secret ... even when ordered to destroy the East Coast or the heart-land just so that Obama could stay in power. This presupposes that (a) all the partisan bickering is just for show but that, somehow, (b) Congress really isn't under control of The Powers That Be (they shot down the Assault Rifle Ban).

If one of those HAARP people is a die-hard Republican the gig is up ... unless, you know, the administration changes--in which case none of them had better be die-hard Democrats (except that, uh, they all better be to kill people for Obama).

This is the same sort of self-contradictory nonsense that suggests that Obama controls the press at the same time he has to threaten and manipulate them (they love him so much he has to hurt them to keep his secrets?). To the conspiracy theorist all facts either fit in ... or vanish: the conspiracy can't fail--it can only be failed.

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