Don't Blame the Media

Greg Sargent points out that in the now-infamous Pew poll in which nearly a fifth of Americans think Barack Obama is a Muslim, 60 percent of them say they learned it from the media. So should we blame the media? No, for two reasons.

The first is this: Who is this "media"? When people choose that answer, they might mean Katie Couric, or they might mean Time magazine. Or they might mean Rush Limbaugh, who has taken to calling the president "Imam Obama." Or they might mean some nutball website like World Net Daily. They could mean any of these things, because they're all "the media."

The second reason is the really important one: People have a great deal of trouble remembering where they learned things. This is a long-standing finding in research on media and politics. When you get a piece of information, it isn't placed in a box in your brain called "Things I learned from NBC Nightly News," with that source information linked to it forevermore. It's more likely that it gets put alongside other things you've learned about Barack Obama. And especially when we're talking about an idea that has been floating around for some time, you probably heard it from a variety of different places.

So don't blame "the media," if what you mean by that is the old-fashioned media. Most of them have actually done a fairly good job, to the degree they can, pointing out that Obama is on Team Jesus.

-- Paul Waldman

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