BACKFIRE: Psychological Tricks Used to Advance Russian Conspiracy Theory

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Newspapers lie. And by “newspapers,” I mean the whole mainstream media.

Yesterday I told you how Donald Trump punked the media by pulling a Crazy Ivan maneuver. A critic on Twitter thinks I’m lying. He thinks I’m lying because he read a news article. He read it in the New York Times.

This Twitter critic thinks it’s okay for the New York Times to lie (“Wiretapped Data Used In Inquiry of Trump Aides”), as long as they only lie in their headlines. If the body of the story contradicts the lie, then my Twitter critic says all’s well. A lot of people probably agree with him. People know that headlines are written to pull people in. To pull people in, sometimes you have to stretch the truth. Sometimes you have to stretch the truth until it snaps like a snow pea.

My Twitter critic is unusual. An odd duck. He reads news stories. Sometimes he reads them twice. But 60 percent to 80 percent of people read only the headline.

People can easily remember snappy headlines because they’re repeatable. And people repeat what they remember. Especially if it’s sensational and snappy.

When the New York Times wrote its sensational, snappy “wiretapped data” headline, it hoped to plant a snappy thought in millions of minds. A thought that people would find themselves repeating to others throughout the day. Which day? Inauguration Day.

Psychologically, the New  York Times did a great job. People are still repeating that January 19th headline. Even Donald Trump.

So maybe the story under that snappy headline cast doubt on the headline’s assertion. I don’t know. I didn’t read it. I didn’t read the article because I don’t want to give the New York Times a click count. Screw them. Besides, that headline told me everything I needed to know: Obama wiretapped Trump’s people.

Like the vast majority of people, I read the headline and remembered it. There’s an 80 percent chance you read only that headline, too. Most of us are not like my Twitter critic.

Since most people read only the headline, most people believe that Trump’s aides were questioned based on information obtained through secret wiretaps. Which is exactly what Trump said in his Twitter storm last Saturday. He said that Obama wiretapped his people. His source was the New York Times.

Maybe that New York Times headline was a lie. Maybe not. If it was a lie, then the whole Russian conspiracy theory was a lie. Can you fault President Trump for believing the newspaper of record?

But if that headline was accurate, if Obama really did wiretap Trump’s people, then Obama re-enacted Watergate and should be in jail.

And it all happened because the media used psychological tricks to convince people that the government wiretapped Trump’s people.

There’s no third avenue here since no one is required to read the whole story. No one.

 




Also published on Medium.