Newtown 'Truthers' - Why Conspiracies Won't Quit

An analysis of the 'paranoid style' of American politics.

Flickr Creative Commons, mr.mcclurken
Newtown Truthers: Why Conspiracies Won't Quit
Download Audio
Audio Playlist
Newtown Truthers: Why Conspiracies Won't Quit

We decided, after much debate, to do a show addressing the bizarre and unpalatable conspiracy theories that have arisen in the wake of the Newtown massacre.

We apologize for even having to do it. After what that town and those families have been though, it's sickening to think they have to hear about claims that the children are not really dead, that the incident was staged as part of a plan to take guns away, or that the official narrative of the event does not square with the facts. 
We're not going to dwell on those specific claims today. We're not going to air them or rebut them.  We're going to focus more on the historical pattern into which they fit and on the question of whether, in a digital age, they spread much more rapidly and perniciously. 
I wish there were no topic such as this one. But I think it's real enough so that it fits into our mission of informing you.
You can join the conversation. E-mail or Tweet us @wnprcolin.



E-mail from Jon

I have to applaud you for your courage to tackle today's subject. I understand your trepidation and ambivilance in even bringing it up.

Your major, primary and absolute concerns semed to me two-fold: 1) How can anyone be informed of a "truth,' and 2) What is a journalistic society going to do about promulgation of facts, vs. myth. And fight the myth part.

It was the first time I'd heard of "feeding the trolls." Loved it. Aye, that's the basic conundrom, for sure. Trolls seem to control the world. It is a firghtening prospect to think that tossing a coin to creeps will get you over the bridge. And we encounter more and more trolls.

E-mail from Joan

In a word--EXCELLENT. As a devoted liberal, I have always shaken my head over those folks who prepare for the attack of some enemy they cannot even identify. The explanation offered by the college professor, that these people are reacting to a feeling of being left behind as the world changes (progresses in my opinion). A simple logical explanation that I never would have figured out on my own. I try to listen to you every day as it keeps my 80 year old mind thinking outside the box. Thanks.

E-mail from Steve

Great show, Colin! Don't be afraid to do another show specifically debunking the truthers, line by line.

E-mail from Jack

...and an important one. I just wanted to counteract your last caller (and, again, Nyhan, who needs to find a new line of work).

I believe I first learned of the Newton conspiracy theories on Salon a couple of weeks ago, and I was fascinated even as I was repelled. The greater harm comes from ignoring the conspiracy theorists, not in calling attention to the existence of their theories. Same goes for Intelligent Design, Young Earth geology, denial of human-abetted climate change, the purported vaccine-autism link.

E-mail from John

I unfortunately missed most of your show but one thing I would say on the subject of why there is a lot of this kind of thing is due to very poor coverage by networks. It also is that incorrect information gets repeated. In Sandy Hook the rifle that was supposed to have been used according to the State Police, was in the trunk of his mothers car, they also had conflicting statements on how many hand guns were recovered. If those things didn't happen there would be less of this.
That and the fact that the proposed gun control measures could make people who own guns and did nothing wrong into felons. I for one do not understand how guilt by asscoiation has become the law of the land. The logic being used is they own guns, guns are bad we need to make sure they can't use them since they could be bad.

E-mail from Claire

It was a great show. Don’t let anyone tell you different. I was horrified to hear on Morning Edition the other day that people are STILL saying “We never did see his birth certificate!!” The idea that Sandy Hook was a hoax is just so unbelievably offensive, I have no words. And, under what rock has that “informed” woman been hiding who never heard any of this? Scary business…. Thanks Colin!

E-mail from Wayne

Great show! In response to your last caller, all you need to do is read comments online after any news report to hear vile and insane rantings.
I began to learn a lot today. Many pieces of my experiences began to come together. Thank you and keep up the good work.

E-mail from Sara

What I don't get is how people will believe the most outlandish theories like the idea that Obama would stage the killing of 20 children to take away guns ( Something he has never even mentioned) but they refuse to entertain the idea that there is no motivation for him to do so. I suggested to my father in law an ardent Fox News fan that if his buddies believe that the government is conspiring to take away their 2 nd amendment rights than why can't they acknowledge that if there are players creating crazy theories than perhaps the gun industry is creating one of their own.
Ps I don't believe the gun manufacturers are behind any tragedy either.

E-mail from Anonymous

Dear Colin, I caught only a few minutes of your show today, and I feel compelled to respond. I am the great-aunt of a 6 year old boy who was in the classroom where Adam Lanza shot and killed his teacher, teacher aide, and 4 of his classmates. When Lanza stood in the doorway reloading, John and his friend, after giving each other a nod, ran past Lanza screaming and crying, down the hall, and outside. A few others joined them, and they sat on curb as they were instructed to do in previous drills. This happened! and I have a young man with PTSD to prove it. How can anyone have any doubts about the reality of this event?

E-mail from Jack

I am appalled by Nyhan's viewpoint that this issue shouldn't be covered because the attention might draw more believers to the myth. Shine a bright light on it! Calling attention to a conspiracy theory legitimizes only if the reporting is inept -- as indeed has been the case with climate change coverage in the mass media.

E-mail from Marissa

I felt compelled to write in today regarding the newtown conspiracy theories as it's a topic that has affected me deeply.

As a mother of two young children, the Newtown shooting was (and continues to be) an incredibly difficult event for me to process. It affected me even more deeply than 9/11. When the conspiracy theories started coming out I was shocked and appalled that someone would even begin to insinuate that this situation was anything more than what it appeared to be- the horrific death of children and educators.

Eventually out of sheer curiosity at where these people could develop these theories I watched the YouTube video (the most popular one that's had all the views) and I was disgusted with myself for even beginning to give any credence to their claims, and felt a deep need to do research in the other direction and therefore debunking these "findings". In my research I feel comfortable having found enough articles to discard all "evidence" found to support the individual "points" of the mainstream conspiracy theories. I think it's incredibly disgusting that anyone with a computer can splice together footage from that day and truly make it seem almost credible that it was a hoax, and that many, many people will watch these videos and buy into the theories without doing the proper research in the other direction. It's irresponsible and reprehensible.

The Facebook effect doesn't help either, I've seen many comments on news threads buying into the hoax theories. People seem to take these little sound bytes to heart and begin to believe them without doing research in the other direction.

The bottom line for me is that these poor families do not deserve to hear these terrible theories, nor do they deserve the public easily buying into propaganda placed on YouTube.

Thank you so much for doing this show