When I saw the news that the Vatican had distanced itself from Rowan County, Ky., Clerk Kim Davis, I was … less than surprised.
Pope Francis backing Davis just seemed a bit out of character for someone committed to inclusiveness, so when I saw the stories and quotes from Liberty Counsel and Mike Huckabee claiming the pope’s full support, I was fully prepared to see a rebuttal.
When the story initially came out, observers debated what the meeting between the pope and Davis could mean, with many on the left disturbed, and those on the right convinced that it meant Francis supported her fledgling martydom in toto. Others advised caution. Cathleen Kaveny, a theologian and legal scholar at Boston College, told The Associated Press: “You can’t take his presence with somebody as his affirmation of everything that they stand for. He thanked her for her courage and told her to stay strong. That’s a commitment to her voice in the conversation. I don’t think it’s necessarily commitment to her policy views.”
Sure enough, the Vatican felt the need to clarify accounts of the meeting, specifically that it was not private, but instead consisted of brief greetings with a group of several dozen people at the Vatican embassy in Washington. The only private audience the pope had there, the Vatican said, was with a former student and his family. The Vatican also said that the papal nuncio in D.C., not the pope, extended the invitation; Liberty Counsel has claimed the pope asked for the meeting.
More significantly, the Vatican stated: “The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”
Predictably, some sectors were critical of the Vatican statement, and Davis and Liberty Counsel have dug in, insisting that the meeting was private, and that the Vatican had asked them to keep it a secret for several days.
Who’s telling the truth? I can’t say for sure right now, but I have to admit being very wary of Liberty Counsel, especially as it was just caught in a lie about a picture of a large prayer rally in Peru, which it claimed was for Davis, but was actually from a 2014 missionary convention.
However, I can say for sure that some people will continue to believe just what Davis (Or Li’l Kimmy, as I like to call her) and her people said. The story’s out there now, and can’t really be reeled in.
There are people who still believe that Republican Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa chartered a jet to fly 124 illegal alien children back to Honduras despite all evidence to the contrary.
For one thing, Branstad, as a governor, wouldn’t have had the power to deport the kids; that lies with the federal government. PolitiFact notes that a 2008 anti-trafficking law signed by George W. Bush gives unaccompanied minors from noncontiguous countries—one of which is Honduras—guaranteed access to the federal legal system to argue their cases to remain here, as opposed to being swiftly deported as Mexican minors can be. And the governor’s office, just like the Vatican in Davis’ case, denied the story … not that that matters to some people.
Planned Parenthood myths are thick, especially with widely discredited videos still making the rounds, and no debunking of anything related to Planned Parenthood or Margaret Sanger will satisfy the opposition. (Lies! All lies!) In the 2012 presidential race, Herman Cain revived claims of Sanger having been racist, and Ben Carson has brought it up in the current race.
Yes, she did advocate eugenics, but not the Nazi brand that resulted in the Holocaust—she joined an anti-Nazi group before Hitler’s rise to power and used her influence and money to try to prevent his ascendancy.
Nor was Sanger an active participant in the KKK, but did once make a speech on birth control to a chapter of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan (a parallel group based in Little Rock; I apologize heartily for the city where I work). She called it “one of the weirdest experiences I had in lecturing. … Never before had I looked into a sea of faces like these. I was sure that if I uttered one word, such as abortion, outside the usual vocabulary of these women they would go off into hysteria.”
And no, Sarah Palin didn’t say “I can see Russia from my house.” That was Tina Fey, but so dead-on that people still confuse the two. I can only tolerate Tina, though. She’s at least intentionally entertaining.
I’ve talked before about the unfortunate matter of facts backfiring, and research by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler showing that, as journalist David McRaney put it on his blog, You Are Not So Smart: “When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”
That means it’s that much harder for the press to debunk bad information with much success since people just dig in deeper to their comfortable (un)reality. Which means people who care about facts are just spitting into the wind. Without an umbrella.
And yet we persist. We’re obviously a nutty lot, and gluttons for punishment.
What about all those partisan myths that persist past all debunking? Unfortunately, they’ll be there as long as they’re useful—conservatives as crazed evangelical money-worshippers, liberals as godless socialist automatons in search of free stuff. It all advances a narrative and, damn it, never seems to die (If I see one more debunked saw about food stamps, or Planned Parenthood, or Obamaphones, or …).
Nyhan, who contributes to the New York Times’ “The Upshot” analysis website, told the CU News Corps: “The fact that we haven’t gotten rid of inaccuracy in politics doesn’t mean that fact-checking has failed.” Sometimes, as with the 2012 presidential campaign, candidates drop debunked talking points; Mitt Romney stopped talking about the 100,000 jobs he had said his company created, while Barack Obama ceased calling Romney the “Outsourcer-in-Chief,” both of them after fact-checking proved the assertions wrong.
So yeah, sometimes it works. But when those being fact-checked don’t really care about truth (like Donald Trump and, apparently, Li’l Kimmy), all they have to do is get their story out to the public; rest assured, some people will believe it, and nothing that contradicts the story will dissuade them.
Some will just believe what they want to believe, even if it’s completely ludicrous and has been thoroughly disavowed by one or more of the parties involved. I wish I were just talking about things like Area 51, the Loch Ness monster or Bigfoot (sorry, Cousin Mike); instead, many of these fallacies affect our everyday lives.
I’ll just be over here in the corner, weeping.
Being serious for a moment, my prayers are with Clinton Foundation chief and former secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, who is recovering from a stroke suffered last week after a foundation event in Manhattan.
As a fellow stroke survivor, I can tell her that recovery will be frustrating at times, but that keeping your sense of humor can do wonders. Besides, in a world so tinged with partisan politics, that’s something that’s sorely needed.