Our opponents love their twisted reasoning. That’s why I still keep an eye on our old friend, the heteroseparatist. Not only does he alert me to faked-up outrage coming our way, but his blog might as well be a gallery of the sloppy thinking we have to be ready for. Take this recent post, Homofascism in Schools:
I believe that some gays will call you a “homophobe” to your face and then turn around and teach a child that homosexuality is normal without the consent of that child’s parents. One of my biggest critics, Mr. Rob Tish, still refuses to denounce recruiting children into the glbt lifestyle without the consent of their parents! What does this say about him and some of the glbt community?
Anyhow, click here for my supporting evidence.
Now you might expect me to shred his use of the loaded question, akin to asking, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” That’s too obvious, though. Instead, focus on his “supporting evidence.” His link takes you to a page full of nothing but assertions. None of them are sourced. Each one, true or false, is just an unsupported claim the author heard somewhere else. And now the heteroseparatist is calling them evidence when all he’s doing is repeating information that someone else repeated before him.
This is Echo Chamber thinking. And its practitioners include people far more important than our poor heteroseparatist. In fact, it’s a key anti-gay strategy. Sourcewatch has a great definition:
Echo chamber is a colloquial term used to describe a group of media outlets that tend to parrot each other’s uncritical reports on the views of a single source, or that otherwise relies on unquestioning repetition of official sources.
The term didn’t stick in my head, though, until I saw a guest give an example on a Rachel Maddow segment about Koch Industries and climate change.
Here’s the key bit:
Back to 1997, close to $50 million came from the Koch Foundation to 40 different organizations that are part of a network that we call an echo chamber of climate change denial…The fact that there’s 40 of them creates this unique situation where people hear this message about doubt about climate science from so many different organizations that it becomes believable.
See, if you can’t find enough honest experts to agree with your agenda, you need some way to avoid looking like an isolated crackpot. So you pay people to repeat your message. Or you invent hollow organizations whose sole purpose is to spread your message. Or you find other people willing to lie because it advances their own agenda.
Does it matter that you don’t have a collection of independent sources all coming to the same conclusion? No. In our soundbite world, repetition is a substitute for credibility. Credibility is hard, but repetition is easy.
We see this in our fight for equality. With so many anti-gay activists out there, you might be tempted to think of their movement as a big office complex: some groups (like NOM) have expensive suites, while others (like AFTAH) populate tiny rooms in a dark and leaky basement. But if you walk through the front door you find something else entirely: one big acoustic cavern — a huge echo chamber — where everyone repeats what everyone else is saying. They take junk science from a discredited source like Paul Cameron, say it over and over, and after enough unsourced repetition, get away with pretending it’s credible.
Eventually you end up with the bigot-next-door (look for “Retired Geek” in the link’s comment section) claiming only 9% of gay men and 24% of lesbians live past the age of 65. His source? He can point to other bigots saying it. And now they can point back to him.
Echo chamber. Labels are useful because it’s tough to hold a complex concept in your head unless you can name it. Once you’ve named it, you can invoke it. “Do you have good sources backing up that claim, or is it just an echo chamber?”
When you’re aware of echo chambers, you see them all the time. Here’s one way Fox does it.
- Fox News anchors report a story.
- Fox News commentators spin the story.
- The anchors report on the spin (“Some are saying that…”).
- The commentators treat their spin as fact, because it’s been reported as news.
John Stewart pointed this out in a great piece, and I’ll leave you with that (jump to 6:40 if you don’t want to watch the whole thing).