Every day, from the talking heads on cable news shows to commenters on Facebook, we see people defend the apparently indefensible. Spin the seemingly un-spinnable. But how?
How do human beings repeatedly justify and seek to convince others of their positions, even in the face of powerful contrary evidence?
Well, they often use this this “Playbook”:
1. Deny the evidence.
2. Question the facts.
3. Deflect the issue by shifting attention elsewhere.
4. Minimize the entire incident.
If you want to see this phenomenon in action, spend 10 minutes or so talking politics in its native habitat: social media.
Let’s take a ripped-from-the-status posts example from Facebook, a comment on a post about how President Elect Trump mocked a disabled New York Times reporter, an incident for which there is video evidence:
“Well, technically speaking, Trump did make fun of a disabled reporter. That is true. However, the way it has been presented by the media and by so many liberals and opponents of Trump is fake news:
1. Did Trump know that the reporter was disabled? There is no evidence to suggest that. [DENY]
The first point always ends with “There is no evidence to suggest that.”
Advanced Note: It can help to rely on erecting a straw-man un-meetable standard, like “we don’t know what was in his heart.”
2. The reporters disability isn’t remotely similar to the rude and immature behavior of Trump. The reporter has, if memory serves me correctly, a mild physical disability with his legs, whereas Trump’s mockery is more closely resembling Downs syndrome. [QUESTION]
The second calls into question the facts themselves.
Advanced Note: Beware. Sophisticated trolls can employ a seemingly innocent but unending “well, I’m just asking so I can understand better” technique.
Advanced Note 2: Sprinkle in misinformation as needed. Don’t let the actual facts get in the way. Like in this case, memory in fact didn’t “serve correctly.”
3. Trump has mocked numerous other people with zero disabilities with the same exact immature antics, meaning that it’s his juvenile way of mocking, not a pot shot at disabilities. [DEFLECT]
The third point deflects.
Advanced Note: Deflection can focus on the person who has behaved badly, as above (“Hey, this is no big deal! Quit being so sensitive!), or it may focus on the victim. Victim-focused deflection can often be seen in media portrayals of black shooting victims, like Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown, as “troubled” or “no angel.”
4. Hence Trump may be an immature ass, but he was most certainly not mocking a disabled reporter for being disabled!!! When we consider that it makes Ms Streep’s politically motivated speech take an ironically different context. To speak of honesty and integrity while propagating a lie (or at least intentionally skewing the truth for the purpose of slander), is ironic to say the least!” [MINIMIZE]
Minimize the entire incident. This – the denouement – flows directly from deflection and crescendo’s all the way to 11. This often takes a leap of logic, but when done skillfully, it’s done such panache and gusto, that it’s sometimes hard to pick up. And yet, it’s how our commenter would have us go from being rightfully angry at President Trump for mocking a disabled person to being angry at the decent people who are calling him on it.
And there you have it! Ta-dah!!
This technique is employed in a lather-rinse-repeat manner to all manner of issues.
It is how racism has always worked in America. We can see it clearly in discussions and media portrayals of police violence against people of color. How else can unarmed black boys get repeatedly shot in our country by our own law enforcement, and we can still find a way to pretend like it didn’t happen, defend the shooter, and/or demonize protesters like Black Lives Matter? It’s always the same familiar game: State there is no evidence. Question facts. Deflect. Minimize.
Though I didn’t know what to call it at the time I wrote this satirical piece, it’s familiar from discussions of gun control that you might have on Facebook.
Climate change deniers. Anti-vaxxers. Holocaust deniers. They all use this familiar playbook, or variations of it.
And now you can play along too. So get out there, and see if YOU can spot it in your next spin around Facebook.
Author’s Note: I owe a debt of gratitude to Lisa Hickey and Jackie Summers for their insights that led to this post. I did not come up with this. I just wrote it down. No, Melania, it’s not the same! I had their permission!
(Photo Credit: Flickr/Creative Commons – Dr. Sinclair Terrasidius)