Manipulation in the Politico-Media Complex: Exaggeration

Most of us recognize the manipulation tactics used by politicians today, especially Republicans, to run our country off the rails. But, have you ever wondered how these covert-aggressive tactics actually work and why they’re effective?

At a recent townhall event in northern California, U.S. House Representative Wally Herger (R-CA) used the manipulation tactic of exaggeration:

Herger also told the crowd that the health care reform legislation currently before Congress is a “threat” to American democracy.

“Our democracy has never been threatened as much as it is today,” the Mount Shasta Area Newspapers quoted Herger as saying.

The tactic of exaggeration works by presenting the world or a situation in stark, black and white terms so the manipulator gets what he/she wants from the victim. Only the most distorted or extreme possible outcomes are presented in order to effectively limit and distort the victim’s perception of reasonable options. Outcomes contrary to the manipulator’s agenda are exaggerated to foment fear and dissuade the victim from considering them.

So, Rep. Herger takes what should be a relatively benign issue like health care reform with its many possibilities and shades of gray in terms of policy formulation and falsely reframes it into the deranged fear-laden extreme choice for Americans of either wanting to save our democracy or destroy it through health care reform. The positive, beneficial and calming potential of saving American lives through health care reform is sickly twisted into the biggest threat our country has ever faced. Can’t you just hear those norepinephrine receptors firing off in the brains of Herger’s townhall audience as their flight-or-fight responses are activated? And what about the sense of relief they’ll feel if true health insurance reform is defeated?

And how about the use of the exaggeration manipulation tactic in the run-up to the Iraq war? Americans were manipulated, in part, into supporting the idea of going to war with Iraq through emotionally abusive statements like these:

“America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”
– George W. Bush, October 7, 2002

“The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly Saddam can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
– Condoleezza Rice, September 8, 2002

Moreover, Vice President Dick Cheney created an entire policy doctrine based upon the exaggeration manipulation tactic called the “1% Doctrine” or the “Cheney Doctrine”:

“Under the Cheney Doctrine, Mr. Suskind writes, ‘a one percent chance of catastrophe must be treated ‘as a certainty,’ where firm evidence, of either intent or capability, is too high a threshold; where the doctrine is, in essence, prevention based on suspicion.’”

A manipulation tactic can only work when it’s a secret, when its victim is unaware of being manipulated. Can you think of other examples where exaggeration was used effectively to manipulate public opinion?

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