Denialism in the news

Alert readers have brought to my attention two articles of interest to the study of denialism. First a big fat article in Newsweek entitled The Truth About Denial is a good overview of the anti-scientific crusade of conservative crank tanks to dispute global warming. It has a nice timeline of the development of the denialist movement in response to the unwanted science, examples of the cranks in congress that have latched onto and internalized the arguments that confirm what they want to hear, and their classic tactics of cherry-picking and confusing climate with weather.

The second, and I’d love to hear some feedback on this one, is a WaPo article on a conspiracy I’ve never heard of before. It sounds so implausible I have trouble understanding why anyone believed it, but apparently it’s still quite popular myth to spread around. That is, the conspiracy of memorandum 46:

For nearly three decades, the memo has been passed around by word of mouth, the Internet, on nth-generation photocopied fliers, making the rounds among African American activists, politicians and talk-show hosts.

In “Black Africa and the U.S. Black Movement,” also known as Memorandum 46, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser outlines a sinister 1970s government strategy to undermine black leadership in the United States and sow discord with Africans abroad.

Two immediate problems. One: Jimmy Carter? Really? Two: if Jimmy Carter was behind such a conspiracy than why would anyone be worried? Could you possibly find a more ineffectual bogeyman?

It gets weirder, and consistent with our theory of crank magnetism, other kinds of crankery start emerging from the woodwork.

Everywhere we looked, we found evidence that the document was fake: a 1980 news clipping in which the Carter administration denounced it as a forgery; a September 1980 National Security Council memo noting that the “scurrilous document” referred to nonexistent entities such as the “NSC Political Analysis Committee”; 1982 testimony by the deputy director of the CIA presenting Memorandum 46 as part of a dozen suspected forgeries by the Soviet Union; a 2002 article by Paul Lee, a consultant to the Malcolm X movie by Spike Lee, dismissing Memorandum 46 as a fraud; and the real Presidential Review Memorandum 46, a bland call for a bureaucratic review of U.S. policy toward Central American issues, which is available on the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum’s Web site.

We also contacted Zbigniew Brzezinski, the liberal lion who supposedly authored the memo. Not only did he say he had nothing to do with it, but the former national security adviser pointed out that in one of the versions circulating on the Internet, “the idiot-forger could not even spell my name correctly.”

But if you think that was the end of the story, you don’t know the world of black talk radio. These are the airwaves in which the first president of the United States was a black man, in which AIDS was cooked up in a government laboratory to decimate the black population and in which major corporations lace their food with chemicals to make black men sterile.

Colleagues at the station accused us of performing “counter-intelligence.” Stalwart callers cried that the station was being “infiltrated.” Harsh words with a station manager were exchanged. And we found ourselves booted out of the talk-radio business.

It’s an interesting story, and by challenging the veracity of such an obviously bogus conspiracy the authors lost their jobs in radio. This is a new conspiracy by me, but clearly suffers from all the classic problems as any other. It doesn’t even need debunking.

I mean Carter? Really?

Thanks Ted and Liz.