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Excerpted from "Informing the News" by Thomas E. Patterson. Copyright © 2013 by Thomas E. Patterson. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Excerpted from "Informing the News" by Thomas E. Patterson. Copyright © 2013 by Thomas E. Patterson. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Published by wamu885
Excerpted from "Informing the News" by Thomas E. Patterson. Copyright © 2013 by Thomas E. Patterson. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpted from "Informing the News" by Thomas E. Patterson. Copyright © 2013 by Thomas E. Patterson. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Published by: wamu885 on Nov 22, 2013
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05/15/2014

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 Excerpted from the Introduction
 INTRODUCTION The Corruption of Information
Incompetence and aimlessness, corruption and disloyalty, panic and ultimate disaster, must come to any people which is denied access to the facts. No one can manage anything on pap. Neither can a people.
 
Walter Lippmann  As the possibility of invading Iraq was being debated in Washington, pollsters were busy asking Americans for their opinions. A slim majority expressed support for an invasion if
President George W. Bush thought it necessary. But Americans’ willingness to go to
war depended on what they believed was true of Iraq. Contrary to fact, most Americans thought Iraq was aligned with al-Qaeda, the terrorist group that had attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. Some Americans even believed Iraqi pilots had flown the planes that slammed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. Citizens with mistaken beliefs were twice as likely as other Americans to favor an invasion of Iraq. They might also have had other reasons for wanting to rid the world of Saddam Hussein. He had repeatedly thwarted UN inspections of his weapons systems and had killed tens of thousands of his own people. Nevertheless, the notion that Hussein was aligned with al-Qaeda was pure fiction.
 
Fox News viewers were the most misinformed. Two-
thirds of them perceived a “clear link” between Saddam Hussein and al
-Qaeda, a research finding that journalists at rival news outlets found amusing. A more sober look at the evidence would have tempered their response. Fox viewers were not the only ones with a false sense of reality. Roughly half of ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC viewers wrongly thought that Iraq and al-Qaeda were collaborators, as did two in five newspaper readers.
Warped understandings are hardly new. When fluoride was added to the nation’s water
supply a half century ago, some Americans claimed it was a communist plot to poison
the nation’s youth. In a seminal 1964 Harper’s Magazine articl
e, the historian Richard
Hofstadter described such thinking as “the paranoid style.” “No other word,” Hofstadter wrote, “adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”
 The crazed anticommunists of postwar America have their counterparts today. Can
anything except the “paranoid style” explain the conspiracy theorists who claim Barack
Obama funneled money to extremist Muslim groups in an effort to sabotage American interests9 or who say George W. Bush knew in advance of the September 11 terrorist
plot and chose not to stop it? Yet paranoia cannot explain today’s astonishing misinformation level. As Hofstadter defined it, the “paranoid style” describes the thinking
of the delusional few, whereas it is easy today to find issues on which tens of millions of  Americans have far-fetched ideas. At one point in the 2009
 –
2010 health care reform debate, for instance, half of the American public falsely believed the legislation included
“death panels”—
government-appointed committees with the power to deny medical treatment to old folks.
 
It is a short step from misinformation to mischief, as we have seen repeatedly in recent policy debates. It is nearly impossible to have sensible public deliberation when large numbers of people are out of touch with reality. Without agreement on the facts, arguments have no foundation from which to build. Recent debates on everything from foreign policy to the federal budget have fractured or sputtered because of a factual deficit.
What’s going on here? Why are Americans mired in misinformation? Several factors are
at work, but changes in communication top the list. Americans have been ill-served by the intermediaries
the journalists, politicians, talk show hosts, pundits, and bloggers
that claim to be their trusted guides. Journalists are our chief sense-makers. Journalists are other things, too, but we need them mostly to help us understand the world of public affairs beyond our direct
experience. That’s not to say th
at journalists bear the full burden of keeping us informed. If they are to be charged with that responsibility, they will fail. They cannot make up for glaring defects in the work of others, including our educators and political leaders. Yet, as journalist
Walter Lippmann noted, democracy falters “if there is no steady supply of trustworthy and relevant news.”
  _________________ Journalists are failing to deliver it. A 2006 Carnegie Corporation report concluded that

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