Can Journalists Debunk Trump’s Lies Without Amplifying Them? It’s Challenging but Not Impossible
Unfortunately, initial polling data suggests that despite the widespread mockery and debunking, Conway’s invention of a fake terrorist attack was successful. Public Policy Polling, a progressive polling organization, found that 51 percent of the Trump supporters polled believe that the “Bowling Green massacre” — which, again, did not happen — justified Trump’s now-suspended ban on travelers and immigrants from certain Muslim countries.
How can so many people be so gullible? Well, there are a lot of possibilities. It could be that these folks know, on some level, that the “Bowling Green massacre” is not real but want to believe it’s true or partly true.
In September Dan Kahan, a Yale professor who studies the problem of false belief, told Salon many people will affirm false beliefs “because they know it’s really going to get an aversive response from people who have an alternative identity, and who know that’s the true answer.” In other words, they want to piss off people who believe in objective facts.
But it might also be that the constant repetition of the phrase “Bowling Green massacre,” even in stories that debunked its occurrence, was so evocative that the idea of it became planted in people’s minds, while the debunking didn’t stick in people’s minds as much.