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Media Bias Disguised as Scientific Op-Ed Articles

An op-ed piece by Daniel L. Schacter, Ph.D., of Harvard University, published by the New York Times on April 5, 2004 and titled “The Fog of War” addresses the anticipated testimony of Condoleezza Rice before the 9/11 commission. On the surface, this appears to be a rather innocuous scholarly article that addresses the types of memory failures that can occur when recalling information some time after the fact, or during testimony like this. However, when seen side by side with an article published the next day (but not in the Times) by Marc Morano of Cybercast News Service based upon research done by Gerald Nicosia, disturbing trend become apparent which seem to deserve analysis by a psychologist.

Dr. Schacter recounts that much attention is being focused on the expected discrepancies between the recollections of Condoleezza Rice concerning the Bush administration's response to terrorism issues and those of Richard Clarke and that “One of the two, popular thinking goes, will ultimately be caught in a lie.” Dr. Schacter, an eminent researcher into the failures of memory recall, notes that differences have surfaced between how Richard Clarke and other White House colleagues remember the specific events of 9/11. This by itself, of course, is a brilliant observation by a Ph.D.

In accordance with his long-standing research into memory failures and distortions, Schacter states that “These accounts may seem perplexing given the momentous nature of the unfolding events. One might even wonder whether one of the parties has engaged in willful distortion. But these conflicts need not involve bad faith on the part of either person. Indeed, conflicting recollections are neither unfamiliar . . . nor surprising. The way the brain stores and retrieves information, research shows, can sometimes lead people to hold different memories of the same event.” Schacter has long classified memory errors into seven categories which he calls the “seven sins of memory.” The ultimate conclusion is that Clarke’s “errors of memory” are not really willful or biased, but are simply the result of expected and normal distortions of the memory process. The other implications are that Rice’s testimony will be just as distorted as Clarke’s for the same scientific reasons, and that “without external corroboration, we cannot know for certain which aspects of Mr. Clarke's or [others’] account(s) are off the mark.” Since we might not really be able to tell who is accurate, this reduces the testimony of both to a type of moral equivalency, at the mercy of simply scientifically explained forces of memory distortion.

As I have noted, the next day on the 6th of April, Marc Morano reported research done by Gerald Nicosia, author of Home to War: A History of the Vietnam Veteran’s Movement and a figure actually sympathetic to John Kerry. The article is titled “Communists Infiltrated Kerry's Anti-War Group, Historian Says” and documents that the 1970s anti-war group of which John Kerry was a critical, almost indispensable leader, was "heavily infiltrate[d]" by individuals dedicated to the teachings of Chinese communist leader Mao Tse-Tung and to the use of violence, if necessary to achieve their goals. . . The RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party) was already beginning to heavily infiltrate the [Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1971]. They eventually took it over around '73 and basically pushed out all the real veterans and brought in all the RCP functionaries and destroyed the organization." This is basically the group that held a vote on whether to assassinate congressional leaders.

In recounting this, still-member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and current National Coordinator David Cline is quoted as saying that “ he recalls avowed communists being a part of the VVAW in the early 1970s, but dismissed their importance.” Cline is quoted as saying that "Mainly I thought they were just people just trying to sell their papers." Cline is further quoted as believing that much of the recent scrutiny of Kerry's anti-war activism has originated from a "far right segment" of veterans trying to influence the election. "I think that there is a segment of the veteran's community, a far right segment. They are working to try and whip this up," Cline is quoted as saying.

This leads us to the problem. An eminent Harvard researcher, whose research is impeccable, gives a “pass” to Richard Clarke by excusing “errors” in his 9/11 Commission testimony as being attributable to expected and predictable memory distortions which occur over time, sets up Condoleezza Rice as being prone to an equal number of errors, (thereby attempting to equate the two) and gives the impression that no one can “ever really tell the difference.” At the same time a long-standing anti-American problem monger who admits being associated with communists intent upon violent attacks upon his own country, associated with an organization which debated the assassination of public officials, and associated with an organization which helped to overthrow and to enslave 20 million South Vietnamese and resulted in the brutal deaths of hundreds of thousands of others, “dismisses the importance” of these events, states that they were just due to “people just trying to sell their papers," and that the “far right” is “working to try and whip this up" and make a mountain out of a molehill.

In psychology, when faced with threat or danger, a person engages in what are known as “defensive mechanisms” which help protect against the threat. Organizations do the same, in this case liberal organizations being threatened by having distortions for political gain on an issue as important as our national security being exposed, or threatened by having their association with communist agents brought to light and the shameful conduct in maligning their own countrymen as well as the betrayal of the trust invested in them by another country being brought to light. In this case the defense mechanisms are those of “rationalization” and “projection.” Clarke’s errors and distortions aren’t really politically motivated, they are just the result of known psychological memory distortions (rationalization). Rice will have the same problems, they are equal in moral culpability to Clarke’s errors, and we won’t be able to tell the difference anyway (rationalization). Being involved with Mao – oriented communists intent on sabotaging the country, who might have assassinated our elected officials if they had gotten a couple more votes, and who helped to enslave and to brutalize an entire country under the banner of “peace” and being “against war” is no big deal, just a bunch of college guys selling papers (rationalization). And finally, it’s not really our fault for all of this; this is really just a vast right wing conspiracy which wants to dig all of this up, since we don’t see any problem in the fact that our character or conduct led to the overthrow of an entire country and helped severely to damage our own with blatant lies and falsifications (projection).

The point of this is that the liberal press appears to be developing an ever-increasing sophistication in presenting their “spin” in their attempts to influence the “hearts and minds” of the American public by attempting to blame the failures of eight years of ineffective coping with terrorism by the Clinton Administration at the feet of the very people who have been most aggressive in trying to cope with the problem. At the same time, the catastrophic betrayal of two nations (really three, since we need to include the killing fields of Cambodia,) is not anything to get excited about, especially since one of the leaders of this movement, John Kerry, could conceivably lead the nation, but is all the result of the “right wing conspiracy.” People need to remain vigilant and sophisticated when reading seemingly innocuous stories such as these.


C. Alan Hopewell, Ph.D., M. S. Psy.Pharm, ABPP
Diplomate, American Board of Professional Psychology
American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology
Master's Degree in Clinical Psychopharmacology

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