President Donald Trump is a master of delivering talking points on repeat — however misleading or false they may be. And in a report for the Washington Post, journalists Toluse Olorunnipa and Philip Rucker deliver some bad news: it works, at least with some people.
Repeating bogus talking points over and over, the journalists note, is “a form of gaslighting that has become the central defense strategy for the president as he faces his greatest political threat yet.” The political threat Olorunnipa and Rucker are referring to is an impeachment inquiry, and they note Trump routinely tries to undermine that inquiry with false statements — for example, claiming that only “Never Trumpers” have complied with inquiry-related subpoenas or insisting that polls that show a growing support for impeachment are “fake.”
Trump has repeatedly claimed that a whistleblower’s account of his July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky “bears no resemblance” to what was actually said that day. But Olorunnipa and Rucker note that the whistleblower’s assertions have been “corroborated by the reconstructed transcript released by the White House” — and that witness testimony in the impeachment inquiry has “backed up most of the whistleblower report’s main conclusions.”
Kathleen Hall Jamieson tells @ToluseO & @PhilipRucker that social psychology research shows how “repeated exposure to a claim increases the likelihood that you think it’s accurate” even when there’s evidence it’s not true. https://t.co/OVdS9brXEH
— Peter Wallsten (@peterwallsten) November 6, 2019
Nonetheless, repeating falsehoods can have the effect of “gaslighting” those who are listening uncritically.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, told the Washington Post, “We know from work in social psychology that repeated exposure to a claim increases the likelihood that you think it’s accurate. As you hear or read something repeatedly, you are more likely to think it’s accurate even if faced with evidence that it’s not.”
Similarly, conservative Trump critic and former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele told the Post, “One thing we’ve all noticed with Trump is he knows how to strategically create confusion. To go on the record with a bald-faced lie, it doesn’t matter whether you fact-check him in real time — it doesn’t matter if there’s a hue and cry afterwards. His calculation is that there’s enough confusion that you don’t know what’s true and what isn’t.”
In a sense, Trump has a captive audience because his hardcore base listen to him uncritically — and they automatically tune out other points of view.
“If you can construct the world that anybody who says anything negative about the president is a venal partisan, you never have to get into any of the evidence because you distort the evidence and discredit the source of it,” Jamieson explained. “That’s what Donald Trump does.”