At Salon, Justin Elliot reports:
An August Pew poll found that a growing number of Americans — 18 percent — falsely believe that President Obama is a Muslim. Why does that figure keep rising? It’s a difficult question, but it may partly be explained by the remarkable success of videos like this one, which has racked up over 2.5 million views in just three months on YouTube. It’s titled, “”BREAKING NEWS! – Is Barack Obama Really A Saudi / Muslim ‘Plant’ in the White House?”
The thrust of the video, put up by YouTube user ppsimmons, is this: The wife of an American-born Israeli author, Avi Lipkin, monitors the Egyptian media. She saw a broadcast in which the Egyptian foreign minister said that Obama personally told the him that Obama is a Muslim — and that the president is hiding that fact (and also that he is going to betray Israel).
All of this is narrated not by Lipkin, but by an unidentified man (possibly the YouTube user). Lipkin, who sometimes using the alias “Victor Mordecai,” is a former IDF spokesman and current right-wing speaker and writer on Islamic terrorism. He told Salon in an email that the YouTube video is an accurate portrayal of his beliefs.
“My wife, Rachel, has been listening to the Arabic language media from her office in Kol Israel Radio in Jerusalem, and this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “It is ironic, because the whole Islamic world knows the American president is a Moslem. The only ones who don’t know it or want to know it are the Americans, themselves.”
There is no evidence presented that this Egyptian interview ever happened. And the YouTube video itself (which was apparently put up not by Lipkin, but by one of his fans) could well be the product of a lone conspiracy theorist. Which makes it all the more remarkable that it has racked up 2.5 million views.
The video does actually identify its narrator: PCG. That is, Pastor Carl Gallups from the Hickory Hammock Baptist Church in Milton, Florida. Online shoppers who want to accessorize their faith might enjoy visiting the church’s gift shop where they will find a fine line of “CHRISTIAN and GOD AND COUNTRY T-Shirts, Gifts Accessories and Home Items.”
Pastor Gallups was given national attention in late June when he was named as a runner-up in one of Keith Olbermann’s “worst person in the world” lists after the release another popular YouTube video: “EXCLUSIVE! OIL SPILL IN GULF – Hand of God? Connection to Israel?”
To the extent that Gallups’ videos have gone “viral” (at least prior to receiving attention from MSNBC and Salon), the pathways of proliferation they have followed seem somewhat predictable. Spreading out from Pastor Gallups’ own congregation, along with listeners to his Freedom Friday show on northwest Florida’s 1330 AM Weby talk radio, these are messages spreading most likely among the already converted. Which is to say, people whose worldview is confirmed — not challenged — by claims such as that the Saudi Arabian monarchy is in control of the US government or that the BP Gulf oil spill was an expression of the wrath of God in reaction to the Obama administration applying pressure on the Netanyahu government.
Are these ideas that can only be accepted by people who have lost any grasp on reason? I think not.
The issue is the boundaries that circumscribe the pool of information that individuals draw upon as they form their understanding of the world. People like Gallups present a view of America and the world that has its own internal logic which holds up through the reinforcement of rigid definitions about what constitute legitimate and illegitimate sources of information.
Progressives, liberals, conservatives, evangelicals, and atheists, all employ the same form of prejudicial review in accessing the credibility of information, which is to attach weight to the source before assessing the value of the information. We attend to who is speaking before we hear what they are saying. Where we differ is in how broad and deep or narrow and shallow is the pool of imputed credibility we draw upon.
This is worth remembering at a time when it’s easy to believe that a wave of irrationality is sweeping across America.