The opening line of this article from the CSM speaks for itself:
Last week, Egypt’s state-owned newspaper Al Ahram helped kick up an international storm with a bit of dodgy journalism: It ran an opinion piece by Amr Abdel Samea, a former loyalist of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, that stated that Mervat el-Tallawy, the head of Egypt’s National Council for Women, had complained that Egypt’s parliament was considering a piece of legislation sponsored by Islamists to allow men to have sex with their wives after their death.
We find out now there never was a piece of legislation suggesting this and the whole story was a hoax perpetrated by one media organization trying to publish stories harming the people they do not want to see in power as Egypt makes its way into a new democratic government. The problem here is that the truth is too late and the damage has likely been done.
Will this be exceedingly devastating to Egypt in the long run? Probably not and no reason to overstate its significance. But the fact remains, propaganda works and the people who know this better than anyone would be the folks in the media. They understand all that is needed is a seed to be planted among the public no matter how ridiculous the claims they are making seem to be. Irrational people and conspiracy theorists will do the rest.
When the news organizations do not question the outrageous claims of authority figures thoroughly, society will typically suffer. News organizations, in the interest of beating their competitors to the punch nowadays, do not investigate these claims as they should and sometimes report them as facts (i.e. the absurd notion of death panels in the U.S. health care reform). When they later realize their mistake, they make a small note of it then move on in order to reduce the embarrassment, pending of course that they have enough respect for their audience to admit their mistakes in the first place. But in the end they know propaganda still works.
America is no exception. One of the most startling cases of this happened just a decade ago:
Polling data show that right after Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans were asked open-ended questions about who was behind the attacks, only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Hussein. But by January of this year(2003), attitudes had been transformed. In a Knight Ridder poll, 44 percent of Americans reported that either “most” or “some” of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. The answer is zero.
In short, at one point virtually everyone knew the truth. Less than a year and a half later, nearly half of the country believed a lie. We all know the reason for this so no reason to delve into the Bush administration’s actions at this time.
The ultimate point here is to just be skeptical. If a claim is made or something is read that seems unbelievable, even if that claim is made by someone with a fancy sounding title, be skeptical first and believe it once you are sure it is true. Or at least as sure as we can be…