Posts by Nick Sementelli

Home > Nick Sementelli

When the Facts Have No Effect

November 22, 2010, 11:51 am | By Nick Sementelli

Two studies from Kelly Garret and Eric Nisbet at Ohio State University shed some light on the anti-Muslim fervor that broke out this summer surrounding the Park 51 project.

The first study surveyed participants’ exposure to false rumors about the Islamic center, and then measured their responsiveness to the truth. The results were fairly disappointing:

Overall, only 35 percent of the participants who previously encountered and believed the rumor held more accurate beliefs after reading a rebuttal, and even fewer – about 28 percent – were moved to reject the rumor.

Given that these anti-Muslim rumors are so difficult to dislodge once people have heard them, the best strategy may be to cut them off before they gain momentum. Garret and Nisbett’s second study helps identify how this misinformation gets to the public in the first place. Again, their findings are predictably disheartening:

People who said they relied heavily on Fox News, either online or on television, were more aware of the false rumors about the mosque and were more likely to believe these rumors compared to those with low reliance on Fox.

Reliance on conservative talk radio had a similar effect on users as did Fox News. Those with a heavy reliance on conservative talk radio heard on average two rumors, compared to 1.5 rumors for those with a low reliance – an increase of 33 percent.

These numbers support Justin Elliot’s comprehensive timeline of Park 51 media coverage, which documents how the political agenda of a small group of right-wing activists combined with the conservative echo chamber turned this uncontroversial local issue into a media firestorm.

As these studies reveal, the nationwide opposition to the Park 51 project was never a good indication of informed public opinion about the project. It was the product of a coordinated smear campaign by conservative activists and media to stir up fear to generate ratings and score political points.

add a comment »

The Pope is a Socialist

November 19, 2010, 1:09 pm | By Nick Sementelli

…or much worse if we were to apply the rhetoric of last year’s health care reform debate!

Because an individual’s health is a “precious asset” to society as well as to himself, governments and other agencies should seek to protect it by “dedicating the equipment, resources and energy so that the greatest number of people can have access.”

Via Think Progress

add a comment »

Religion as a Political Weapon

November 18, 2010, 3:53 pm | By Nick Sementelli

Dan mentioned the new Public Religion Research Institute poll yesterday. One particular finding caught my eye:

There is a strong relationship between how Americans perceive Obama’s faith and their views toward him….among Americans who say Obama’s beliefs are very different from their own, nearly 8-in-10 say they have a very (51%) or mostly (27%) unfavorable view of him.

Although the poll doesn’t directly assign causation, my instinct is that Americans’ opinions of Obama’s beliefs don’t influence their opinion of him generally, but rather their political opinions of him drive their views of his beliefs.

From even the beginnings of the 2008 campaign, Obama’s opponents have been attempting to ‘otherize’ him, to paint him as fundamentally different from “real Americans.” His education, international upbringing, organizing background, race, “celebrity,” etc. have all been incorporated into attacks at some point. His faith just serves as another opportunity to sow confusion and mistrust. While focusing on elected official’s religions isn’t a new political tactic, this time it feels like a more extreme version. After all, right-wing media have embarked on a sustained campaign to convince their audience that the President is a Muslim, and two-thirds of Republicans and Tea Partiers think Islam is incompatible with American values.

Thinking recently, both Bush and Kerry’s opponents used their faiths to highlight their positions on social issues, with each side arguing the other was either too religious or not religious enough. But neither alleged that their opponent was actively lying about his faith altogether.

These types of attacks seem more akin to a much older style of politics, more like the anti-Catholicism President Kennedy faced or the anti-Semitism directed at Jewish leaders for most of our country’s history.

I’d be interested to know if there’s any good data from these earlier periods to see how influential religious attacks were and how it compares to today.

add a comment »

Good News from Murfreesboro

November 18, 2010, 11:16 am | By Nick Sementelli

A Tennessee judge has ruled in favor of the Muslim community whose planned mosque has provoked bigoted backlash. Opponents had filed for an emergency injunction against the construction under the false premise that the Muslim community had not followed the proper planning and approval process.

In reality, these extremists, funded by an outside anti-Islam group, were more interested in smearing Islam and casting doubt onto its legitimacy as a religion. Thankfully, the judge dismissed these claims:

In spite of the plaintiffs’ fiery accusations that Islam is not a religion but a violent political movement looking to supplant U.S.laws, [Judge] Corlew barely mentioned terrorism or public safety concerns, saying that the county’s planning commission isn’t the proper venue to vet such claims when approving a site plan.

This is welcome news for the Muslim community of Murfreesboro who have already been subject to arson this year. Hopefully this will help set a precedent for other jurisdictions battling these issue as it’s very likely these national groups will try this same strategy again at one of the 35 other locations where mosques are under attack.

add a comment »

1.6 Million Killers

November 16, 2010, 1:26 pm | By Nick Sementelli

Writing in the Christian Science Monitor last week, national security “expert” Joseph Bosco made the tired argument that moderate Muslims are failing to prevent terrorism.

Bosco starts by clarifying that he believes 99.9% of Muslims are peaceful allies, a standard rhetorical way of saying “all but an immeasurable minority.” But Bosco isn’t speaking rhetorically:

If only 1/10th of 1 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are terrorists, that is 1.6 million killers acting in Allah’s name.

Bosco isn’t citing some official estimate or research, and he’s not even guesstimating using a particular logical train. He’s taking a symbolic number (99.9%) usually used to defend groups from unfair attacks, and interpreting it literally to turn it into a wildly irresponsible smear.

To be clear, actual estimates of the number of terrorists hover in only the hundreds to low thousands mid tens to low hundreds of thousands. Being generous to Bosco and tagging it at 10,000 160,000 (.01%) puts him off by only 15,900%. 900%.

This fuzzy math doesn’t belong on the pages of a reputable publication.

UPDATE: The previous estimates this post linked to were for Al-Qaida membership specifically. Estimates of global terrorists are higher, but still significantly below Bosco’s guess.

add a comment »