Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sometimes the proof of a theory falls right into your lap.

Recently, I've been all interested in a lot of evidence from the academic literature that people -- when confronted with evidence that refutes their pre-disposed beliefs -- dismiss the evidence in place of doubling down on their own beliefs. It's something that happens all the time, but usually not so blatantly as what is going on right now with regards to the Shirley Sharrod video.

I wrote about one reason for the problem behind the video, but the problem of the parable was -- in this case -- accentuated because of interpretations of what it means to be a racist. It's also tied up in the condemnation by Tea Party supporters of their interpretation of what the NAACP's recent condemnation of racism in the Tea Party actually meant, and their apparent perception that the NAACP is itself a racist organization.

Somewhere amid all those political vortices, a video from Andrew Breitbart appears, allegedly showing how racist an Obama appointee to the USDA -- Shirley Sharrod -- is in her actions. His video strongly implies that the actions that Sharrod recounts are current events; events taking place since her appointment to the USDA. Sharrod is summarily fired by Ag. Secretary, Tom Vilsack (whether Obama actually had any direct part of this is still open for question). In addition, the NAACP issued a statement condemning the apparent racism that it saw in the statements made by Sharrod.

Breitbart's claim all along is that the video is clear evidence that Sharrod is a racist, and that she is an example of the racism that in inherent in this White House as well as the NAACP (who -- just coincidentally -- had just issued a statement condemning racism in the Tea Party, for whom Breitbart has been a vocal supporter). He also says that the NAACP doesn't have any evidence that there is racism in the Tea Party.

Okay, that's basically what happened up until yesterday, when the entire tape of Shirley Sharrod's speech was released. All 40+ minutes of it, as opposed to the few minutes excerpted by Breitbart. In it, the Breitbart excerpt is shown to be part of a larger story -- in parable form -- of how, when she was working with Georgia agriculture 20 years ago, she was approached by a poor white farmer and how this farmer and his wife helped her seriously reconsider her previously held beliefs about race. CNN interviewed the farmer from Sharrod's story as well as the farmer's wife. CNN interviewed Sharrod. The NAACP retracted its condemnation of Sharrod and offered her an apology based on the evidence from the released tape. There have been -- overnight -- many people writing in defense of Sharrod, asking or demanding that the White House apologize and offer her back her old job at USDA.

And what does Breitbart do? He questions the veracity of CNN's reporting. He questions the veracity of the farmer and his wife. He accuses Sharrod of many things as well as setting the whole thing up:

He admits to having the tapes for several months, but "chose" not to release them, and that he was effectively forced to release the tapes because of the stance that the NAACP -- which, remember, he claims is a racist organization -- took against racism in the Tea Party.

Now, if that isn't a clear enough case of rejecting the evidence because of one's pre-determined beliefs, then I don't know what is.

UPDATE: Breitbart appears to be blaming the victim now.

No comments: