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Friday, June 09, 2017

What is CONFLATION in Business

There was a moment in James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee that confused observers and perhaps even Comey himself. It occurred when Senator John McCain asked the former FBI director why he could conclude that
former Senator Hillary Clinton had committed no crime with her email server issues but not draw the same conclusions with Trump campaign’s involvement with the Russians.
Comey patiently explained that the investigation into the Clinton email server issue had ended in July 2016 when he made his announcement that cleared her of any wrongdoing. By contrast as Comey explained to McCain the investigation into Russian hacking was still ongoing. What McCain had done -- inadvertently I believe -- was to conflate the Clinton’s email server issue with the Russian hacking of her campaign’s emails. [McCain to his credit later apologized for any confusion his questions may have caused.]
Conflation is the mingling or merging of two or more different concepts to come up with another idea altogether. In that sense – as it was with McCain -- it is benign. When used in the context of advocacy, however, conflation can be malignant because the intention is to sew confusion, discredit an individual, or perpetrate a conspiracy. Conflation lies at the heart of what is known as “fake news.”
Sadly conflation is all too common. In our hyper-information age rather than becoming more informed we are becoming less informed. Decades ago grocery retailers learned the value of branded packaging. When shelves are cluttered with hundreds of facings, consumers train themselves to look at not what is new but what is familiar. Kellogg’s shoppers reach for Kellogg’s products; General Mills shoppers reach for General Mills brands.
Similarly with the proliferation of media consumers are opting to “narrowcast.” That is, we watch or read information that echoes our personal worldview. Most people consume news not from what they watch but from what they glimpse on their news channels, including YouTube Twitter or Facebook or hear on the radio. To an average voter news is news regardless of the source.
This point was driven home to me on a recent trip to New York City. The driver of my hire care learned that I was from Michigan and so he asked me, “Do they have sharia law in your state?” Obviously he had heard that there is a significant Muslim population in my state, which is true particularly in Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit. That fact had been twisted – or conflated with – anti-Muslim sentiments about the dangers of imposing sharia law.
I assured my driver that Dearborn had a perfectly functional and civil government. I further explained that for Muslims following sharia is a matter of faith and practice not a matter of civil law. Such distinctions are lost and ignored by propagandists. In right-wing media circles sharia means what they practice in Saudi Arabia, a very strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism.


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