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On the hunt for a conspiracy theory

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Conspiracy theory has captured the public imagination. Often we are less interested in what politicians say or do than in attempting to decipher the hidden agenda that motivates their behavior.

Every Supreme Court nomination turns into a search for the skeleton in the closet or a trace of a conspiracy. No sooner was Harriet Miers nominated before rumors suggested that President Bush used her as a fall guy whose failed nomination would make it more difficult for liberals to discredit her more conservative replacement. The president may have more than one conspiracy up his sleeve. It has been suggested that the avian flu scare is promoted by the White House to distract the nation from a messy war in Iraq. Others hint that the pharmaceutical industry is behind it to profit from an explosion of demand for flu vaccines.

Conspiracy theories are now so influential that the US State Department's website desperately tries to contain the damage these theories cause to the reputation of the United States. It recognizes that conspiracy theories have "a great appeal and are often widely believed." Indeed, the theory that American foreign policy is the outcome of a carefully elaborated secret plot concocted by a cabal of neoconservatives is widely believed both inside and outside the US. Preoccupation with conspiracies is no longer confined to the margins. Virtually every unexpected event provokes a climate of suspicion that breeds rumors and conspiracies.

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