When perceptions cloud one’s judgment

WHEN PERCEPTIONS CLOUD ONE’S JUDGMENT…. It’s easy sometimes to get confused between something we think seems true and something that is true. Take, for example, Marty Peretz’s criticism of President Obama yesterday. (via Steve M.)

President Obama used the terms “terrorism” and “terrorist” six times in his weekly address to the nation. I don’t know how long it has actually been since he’s uttered those words. But my memory is that it’s been a very long time.

Peretz concedes that he’s relying on memory — he didn’t check recent transcripts or use the search feature at WhiteHouse.gov — and is no doubt sincere in his observation.

But that’s why it’s generally wise to check, in order to know with certainty whether one’s memory is accurate. In this case, Peretz is fairly sure it’s been “a very long time” since the president used the word “terrorism” or “terrorist.” Is that correct? Well, no.

The weekly address that Peretz approved of was released on Jan. 2. The president had previously referenced “terrorism” in a statement released on Dec. 31, three days prior. Before that, on Dec. 28, Obama delivered a statement on the failed Christmas-day plot, when he used the words “terrorist” and “terrorism” four times in a brief statement. Three weeks ago, upon accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, the president used the word “terrorism” some more.

I get the sense, especially listening to conservative rhetoric over the last week, that it’s very easy for political perceptions to cloud observers’ judgment. Folks keep an eye on current events, and if it seems as if the president isn’t emphasizing counter-terrorism, they too often assume that terrorism just isn’t that important to the president.

Reality takes a little more effort, but it’s a lot more reliable as a standard of measurement.