CNN reports more dirty tricks out of the land of dirty tricks, South Carolina, known for Lee Atwater’s shenanigans and for those rumors during the 2000 race that John McCain had fathered a “black baby.” An email purporting to be a CNN breaking alert went out to Republican operatives in the state recently, claiming that Newt Gingrich once forced his second wife, Marianne, to “abort a pregnancy conceived during the affair that preceeded her marriage to Gingrich.” Sadly, the dirty trickster emailing from BreakingNews@mail.cnn.com misspelled “preceded.”
Does an email like this really work? Marianne Gingrich’s claim on ABC News last night that Gingrich requested an open marriage was troubling enough, even if Gingrich was able to give a robust denial during the debate, culminating in him practically bashing John King over the head with a frying pan. Whoever sent that fake email must have known it would quickly be debunked, so why bother? Why not make hay out of the very real and very serious allegation actually coming from Marianne Gingrich, rather than making up a new one?
Maybe whoever sent the email was aware of a basic psychological principle: that once we’re given misinformation it tends to stick in our brains, even after it’s been corrected. “Even if you understand, remember and believe the retractions, this misinformation will still affect your inferences,” the author of one Australian study on this phenomenon explained earlier this year. And it may be that in South Carolina, forcing your mistress to have an abortion is worse than asking your wife (who was previously your mistress) to permit an open marriage with your next mistress.