Social Media is Breaking our Brains
A plea for decency.
Earlier this week, President Biden announced that he was taking executive action on abortion, and during that announcement he referenced a horrific story out of Indiana: A 10 year-old girl had been raped and impregnated in Ohio, and - due to Ohio’s abortion laws - had to travel to Indiana to have an abortion.
It is beyond horrible and it’s the sort of story that makes you gasp when you hear it. That is, if you’re normal. Shortly after Biden relayed it, conservative media decided that it wasn’t true. There were the usual suspects, like Tucker Carlson, who affirmatively declared1 that it was a lie:
But it wasn’t just Carlson. Michael Brendan Dougherty was one of the stand-outs on Twitter:
Fox News - not just Tucker - treated it as completely made up from the beginning, without even entertaining the idea that it could be true. You probably saw this coming, but a few days later the story was confirmed, with the rapist arrested by local law enforcement (turns out he was an illegal immigrant, which is another wild part of this narrative).
Dougherty is a returning champion to the Jackal, and he still seems to have a really hard time admitting when he’s wrong. Here is his caveated apology:
Most of the other sources were not so ready to apologize. The Wall Street Journal did issue a correction to an Op-Ed they published, but it still contains the pretty gross headline:
I’ll admit that I followed the story only casually, which is likely due to the fact that when I first heard it, I was so horrified I tried to push it out of my brain. It still makes me nauseated just having to think about it now.
That said, I was pretty shocked by conservative media’s reaction. It ranged from general skepticism - which is (I guess?) somewhat reasonable given the national environment surrounding abortion right now - to concrete denial. In any normal circumstance, if Dougherty had been sitting at a kitchen table, and a friend had told him a story she heard about a 10 year-old who was raped and seeking an abortion, there is no way he would call the story “fictive” to his friend’s face and essentially call them a liar. I have to believe he’d be sympathetic and react in a normal, human way.
Instead, social media broke his brain. A reporter for a conservative website did a long thread on why she was skeptical of the story, and lots of conservatives ate it up. A hive mind of sorts formed, and a narrative was created: If you were conservative, you had every reason to bet that the story was made up, even though it was reported by a local newspaper who interviewed an actual physician. It is a microcosm of how tribalism operates in real time.
Our Bible study is reading a great book called Live No Lies by John Mark Comer, and while it touches heavily on how social media is shifting us into like-minded groups rather than actually bringing people together, Comer has an incredible quote from David Foster Wallace that has been etched into my brain lately:
What’s been passed down from the postmodern heyday is sarcasm, a manic ennui, suspicion of all authority, suspicion of all constraints on conduct, and a terrible penchant for ironic diagnosis of unpleasantness instead of an ambition not just to diagnose and ridicule but to redeem. You’ve got to understand that this stuff has permeated the culture. It’s become our language; we’re so in it we don’t even see that it’s one perspective, one among many possible ways of seeing. Postmodern irony’s become our environment.
Between conservative skepticism of the story and liberals dunking on conservatives who were wrong, a fundamental tragedy has been overlooked, which is that a child had to seek an abortion of her own child, and a lot of people missed it because tribalism has “permeated the culture” and become our language. She is ten years old. It should crush us and move us, but instead the story has become a ping pong ball.
The story is one that we will actually have to face in a post-Roe environment. Ohio’s attorney general said that the young girl probably didn’t have to leave Ohio to obtain an abortion, but Ohio’s law governing abortion (SB23) is pretty vague, and does not contain an age stipulation. This has sort of been the point of Roe’s proponents for a while: When doctors are forced to make decisions about how to interpret the law, they will take the action that reduces their own liability first.
To be clear, the Ohio legislature can change the law, and maybe they will; that was sort of the point of SCOTUS’s decision in Dobbs: They removed the Court from this debate and the States will have to make their own decisions. Dobbs came down only a few weeks ago, so we are closer to the beginning of the messiness in a post-Roe America than we are to the end of it.
Charles Cooke points out something for Republicans to remember: Biden’s approval ratings are bad, but he still beats Donald Trump in the polls.
An actual must-read on the 53 migrants who died trying to get into the U.S.
A long New York Times dive into how a conspiracy theory wrecked a Trump supporter’s life.
Joe Manchin is a Bond villain.
See everyone next week!