Responding to Deathers: attacking a conspiracy theory in its nascent stages
When conspiracy theories and other wackadoodle ideas are first forming, they tend to get absolutely no attention from the non-nuts of the world. Who knows what effect this has on them, but I maintain that a lack of resistance in the infancy allows conspiracy theorists the time to hash out and refine their nuttiness so that when they finally start promoting it to the larger world, it has a better chance of taking off. Anti-vaxxers, Birthers, and 9/11 Truthers all worked in the fringes for months and even years before they were acknowledged by the public at large, and by then, they had their pitches refined. On the flip side, there was an immediate response to Trig Truthers as soon as the theories started to form, a response which I think did a lot to minimize the expansion of that particular conspiracy theory.
But within 24 hours of Osama Bin Laden's death, the conspiracy theory that it was all faked was already getting attention, and even an audience on Fox News. I feel that this is all very premature, and that means we in the reality-based community have an excellent shot at minimizing the impact of this one by resisting loudly and immediately. So, with that in mind, I've put together a quick primer on ways to challenge nascent Deathers, to get them off their guard in hopes they just give up the silliness before it gets out of hand.
Question how the government would hide Bin Laden. As we all know, Osama Bin Laden had a habit of periodically releasing videos to assure his followers and the world that he's still alive. If the Obama administration actually faked Bin Laden's death, wouldn't Bin Laden immediately put together another video and send it directly to Fox News? Wouldn't Fox News be delighted to play such a thing on a continuous loop? This is something to ask your nascent conspiracy theorist repeatedly, and don't let them weasel out of it.
Timing. This is clearly the worst possible time, politically speaking, for Obama to release this news. It's more than 18 months until the election. Americans have a short attention span, so the timing of this news means that Obama probably won't pick up a single extra vote for it. If you're going to fake Bin Laden's death, why not do it in September 2012?
The actual announcement. As most of you who actually flipped on your TV at the announcement that Obama had something to say know, the impact of his speech was dramatically undermined by the fact that all the news stations confirmed nearly an hour ahead of time that it was that Bin Laden was killed. If you're going to fake it, why would you do it that way? Everyone was completely annoyed that it was taking Obama so long to speak, and the reason was that he was crafting his remarks. If it was all a set-up, why wouldn't you have your remarks scripted well ahead of time so that you're the person who gets to make the announcement, and not a bunch of TV anchors?
Timing. Sunday night is a shitty hour to roll this out. Look at how fucked up John King was, for instance. The idea time is mid-morning in an early weekday, so the entire day is dominated by it and it's still fresh for the lead-in on prime time news. I hate to point this out, but Bin Laden himself knew this, which is why the 9/11 attacks were scheduled on a Tuesday morning. It exploited the rhythms of a work day.
The walkback of the wife-shield story. If the Obama administration faked the whole thing, why would they bother to correct the record and say that Bin Laden did not use one of his wives as a human shield? There would be no reason to be more accurate about one detail of a story you just made the fuck up. And it's not because it's not believable. Bin Laden was a mass murderer and a fundamentalist with all the attendant dehumanizing beliefs about women. If anyone would grab a wife as a human shield, it would probably be him. So why would you change that part of the story? It's not because it's hard to believe. And if you faked the whole thing, this would be the easiest part to fake.
Now, obviously, there are large pieces of evidence that this wasn't faked, including the DNA testing. I'm not including those, because the conspiracy theory has already grown to accommodate the evidence. I think it's probably more important to attack the logic of a conspiracy theory, especially in its nascent stages, anyway. Evidence is easier to dismiss, believe it or not. But poke holes in the narrative, and you can some times get through to people.