In Politics, Sometimes The Facts Don't Matter

Guests

Dana Milbank, national political columnist, Washington Post
Brendan Nyhan, Robert Wood Johnson scholar in health policy research, University of Michigan
Alicia Shepard, ombudsman, NPR

New research suggests that misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the facts — and often become even more attached to their beliefs. The finding raises questions about a key principle of a strong democracy: that a well-informed electorate is best.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

We'd like to believe that most of what we know is accurate and that if presented with facts to prove we're wrong, we would sheepishly accept the truth and change our views accordingly.

A new body of research out of the University of Michigan suggests that's not what happens, that we base our opinions on beliefs and when presented with contradictory facts, we adhere to our original belief even more strongly.

The phenomenon is called backfire, and it plays an especially important role in how we shape and solidify our beliefs on immigration, the president's place of birth, welfare and other highly partisan issues.

Have the facts ever convinced you to change your mind, and how did it happen? Call and tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We begin with Dana Milbank, national political columnist for The Washington Post, who joins us from a studio at the newspaper here in Washington. Nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. DANA MILBANK (National Political Columnist, Washington Post): Good to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And on Sunday, the Post published a piece you wrote that started with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's claim that law enforcement agencies found bodies in the desert, either buried or just lying out there, that had been beheaded.

Mr. MILBANK: Yes, I think Governor Brewer lost her head on that one in particular. Now, there's a huge problem with violence on the border, but virtually all of it happens to be on the Mexican side. And what happened in the case of this claim is a news organization out there called the Arizona Guardian called all the coroner's office, the medical examiners in those border counties, and they could not think of a single instance of an immigration-related beheading.

I called the governor's office to see if they could give me some of this decapitation information, and they didn't so much as return an email or a phone call. So I suspect if they had evidence of that, they would have furnished it.

CONAN: And no updates since publication.

Mr. MILBANK: There is no reply still.

CONAN: There are any number of stories about the immigration issue, which is really hot right now, but border violence on the rise, Phoenix becoming the world's number-two kidnapping capital, illegal immigrants responsible for most police killings. The majority of those who are crossing the border are doing so as drug mules, and you say all wrong.

Mr. MILBANK: Yes, in each of those cases. Now, the drug mules was again Governor Brewer, and in the case of the number-two kidnapping capital in the world, that's being voiced around town on the various networks by John McCain.

So we're in this curious situation where the Arizona Senator McCain and Arizona Governor Brewer, vying to see who can repel the largest number of tourists from Arizona. So they seem to be attempting to do in their own interests.

CONAN: And the facts, as you suggest, are not elusive here. The issue about crime rates and the border counties has been, you suggest, exhaustively reported in the major newspaper in that state.

Mr. MILBANK: They have been, and the FBI keeps statistics on this, and the fact is that violence is flat to slightly lower than it was a decade or even two decades ago. But when this is pointed out, the President said as much in his speech, people get indignant, and they respond with anecdotes like such-and-such rancher was killed in March, or this trooper was shot in April.

Now, these things are true, but of course, the anecdotes don't by themselves don't prove that there's actually more crime than there was previously. And then the response to this story has been very much the same, just sort of, like, angry. They suggest that I'm making up the facts. But I just, you know, pulled them from the FBI website. Now, I guess the FBI could be making up the facts, but I don't know how far we can take this.

CONAN: And this is obviously one set of issues around immigration, which has been, as we suggested earlier, a very hot subject of discussion in recent months, since Arizona passed the controversial law. But it is not isolated. This kind of political discourse, if you will, is not isolated to immigration.

Mr. MILBANK: No, I think that's right. As you introduced the subject, I mean, it brings to mind the birthers' claim. And, you know, I first heard about this, I said, well, that's kind of interesting, but then even once a copy of the birth certificate was posted online, it became, well, that's not the real birth certificate, or there's some other birth certificate.

I mean, we've had, you know, people making allegations that there's FEMA is operating a concentration camp, I think, in Wyoming, and it is almost as if no body of evidence that disproves these things will convince people not to believe it.

And I mean, this is because we have a Democratic president now, and, you know, there were similar things going on with George W. Bush. Remember the radio that he was supposed to be having in the back of his jacket during the debates?

CONAN: Oh, right, so he could pipe in...

Mr. MILBANK: They didn't do a very good job of it, if they were piping it in.

CONAN: If they were piping it in, well, also that the whole 9/11 plot was a government plot to justify war.

Mr. MILBANK: Exactly.

CONAN: Well, Brendan Nyhan is a health policy researcher at the University of Michigan. He recently published "When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions." That was in the June issue of the Journal of Political Behavior, and he joins us now from the studios of WUOM, Michigan Radio, our member station in Ann Arbor. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. BRENDAN NYHAN (Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy Research, University of Michigan): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And when facts are readily available, why are they not enough to change people's minds?

Mr. NYHAN: Well, the problem is, you know, as human beings, we want to believe, you know, the things that we already believe. And so when you hear some information that contradicts your pre-existing views, unfortunately, what we tend to do is think of why we believed those things in the first place.

And, you know, so when, you know, we get these corrections, we tend to say I'm right, and I'm going to stick with my view. And the thing that my research, which is with Jason Reifler at Georgia State University, found is that in some cases, that corrective information can actually make the problem worse.

So some people who read Dana's article about immigration may actually have come away from it more strongly committed to the belief that crime has gone up along the border.

CONAN: And indeed are probably demanding his birth certificate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NYHAN: That's right.

CONAN: This is a phenomenon described as backfire. You say it's a natural defense mechanism to avoid cognitive dissonance.

Mr. NYHAN: That's right. You know, it's hard, it's threatening to us to admit that things we believe are wrong. And all of us, liberals and conservatives, you know, have some beliefs that aren't true, and when we find that out, you know, it's threatening to our beliefs and ourselves.

And so what we think happens is that the way people, you know, try to resolve this in some cases is to, you know, buttress that belief that they initially held, and, you know, there's a long line of research showing results like this.

CONAN: And again, we'd like to think of our brain as something that's been trained in, you know, Cartesian logic, when in fact, our brain is sort of hard-wired to leap to conclusions very quickly.

Mr. NYHAN: That's right. And what's interesting is in some of these cases, it's the people who are most sophisticated who are best able to defend their beliefs and keep coming up with more elaborate reasons why 9/11 was really a conspiracy or how the weapons of mass destruction were actually smuggled to Syria or whatever the case may be.

So this isn't a question of education, necessarily, or sophistication. It's really about, it's really about preserving that belief that we initially held.

CONAN: And you define sophistication, as I read your piece, you define it as somebody who is right a lot of the time, but the 10 percent of the time they're wrong, boy, they stick to being wrong.

Mr. NYHAN: That's right. That's right. And, you know, I should note that this isn't just a matter of how you interpret information. It's the information you seek out in the first place.

So some of the people in the case of Dana's article who, you know, are committed to the belief that, you know, immigration has increased crime, may avoid information that contradicts that belief in the first place. So it's not just a matter of how they react to reading the article, it's that they may not even see it in the first place.

CONAN: And Dana, that's even perhaps more relevant in a world where we don't have to read any general-issue newspaper if we don't want to. We can find places where we can go to find people who agree with us.

Mr. MILBANK: I think that's exactly what's happening, and that's what's reinforcing this sort of a psychological predisposition that Brendan's talking about, and that is if you only get your information from, say, Fox News, or you only get your information from the Huffington Post, well, what they're telling you may be accurate, but they may leave out things that might sort of weigh in on the other side of the issue.

So then if you do stumble across something that undermines everything that you've been hearing, well, you get confused, you get angry, and, you know, a lot of the letter-writers in response to this particular story were saying I have my facts wrong. Of course, they didn't furnish facts in contradiction of that, although one did say I was full of whale poop, and I wasn't even sure whales made poop, but I didn't want to get into a factual...

CONAN: It's nice to get ambergris into the conversation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the talk, as well, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Call and tell us if there's been an occasion where facts have helped you change your mind and how it happened. Woody's(ph) on the line, Woody calling from Muncie, Indiana.

WOODY (Caller): Hi, I really enjoy your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

WOODY: Yeah, I was raised in a pretty conservative, evangelical, Baptist church and family, and I kind of embraced the creationism as a worldview kind of by osmosis. I didn't - it wasn't really pushed on me.

But anyway, when I decided to become a minister, and it wasn't because of that issue, I kind of adopted that viewpoint, along with (technical difficulties) really thought through at the time. And 40-some years later, I'm retired. I was a pastor, I still am part-time, but I've changed my views radically in some regards on issues and especially on creationism. I embraced...

CONAN: And what was the engine of...

WOODY: Pardon me?

CONAN: What was the engine of change here?

WOODY: Well, I think it was just the facts. You know, I would read, and I'd listen to all kinds of things, you know, not just religious arguments, to scientists. And I always have been an eclectic reader.

And it's just the the evidence that God created in some way that we don't understand or that creation happened in some way we don't understand, I continue to believe that God did it, but I don't, I don't think the Bible tells us how he did it.

Basically, the Genesis accounts of creation just tell us that he did it, not how.

CONAN: All right. Well...

WOODY: And the people yeah, the people who want to argue that it tells how, and, you know, especially those who embrace seven-day creation theory, totally miss the poetic nuances of the intent of the authors.

CONAN: Woody, I'm afraid your line is breaking up a little bit, but thank you very much for the call. We appreciate it.

WOODY: You're welcome.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We're talking about, well, facts, and how come they can seem to matter so little in many arguments. Have the facts ever convinced you to change your mind? Call and tell us the story, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

It's one of the underpinnings of democracy: Informed citizens make better voters and better decisions. If you're wrong, all it takes is the facts and you change your mind. That's the popular belief, anyway.

The problem, as we've been hearing, is that's not always the case, especially when it comes to very partisan issues. Have the facts ever convinced you to change your mind? How did it happen? Call and tell us your story. Email is talk@npr.org. The phone number, 800-989-8255. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are: Dana Milbank, national political columnist for the Washington Post, and Brendan Nyhan, a health policy researcher at the University of Michigan. He recently published a study called "When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions." You can find a link to that on our website. Again, that's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Brendan Nyhan, why is it that highly partisan issues seem to be most subject to this backfire phenomenon?

Mr. NYHAN: Well, I think they're the cases where people care most about the actual outcome of the debate. So, you know, if you're going to buy a refrigerator at the store, you really don't care except to buy a good refrigerator.

But in the case of something like your political views, you don't just care about accuracy, you care about you essentially have a team in a lot of cases, right. You're either a Republican or a Democrat, a liberal or a conservative.

And so you're filtering all the information you receive, you know, through that prism, and so what you end up getting is this real divergence on all sorts of issues, not just on, you know, what policies we should adopt as a country but on actually the underlying facts. And that makes it really hard to have a debate.

You know, if one side says, you know, the sky is blue, and one side says the sky is purple, we have a pretty hard time, you know, actually, you know, agreeing on the premises to actually have a conversation.

CONAN: It's interesting you use the word teams. A lot of us are passionate supporters of one team or another, but the issue is generally resolved by the World Series or when they play each other, that we can come away and say, well, we'll get you again next year.

Mr. NYHAN: Yeah, for a certain portion of the electorate, it is almost like a team sport. And, you know, if these are the people you, you know, identify with an align yourself with, and, you know, you watch your team arguing on cable news and whatever, then, you know, it's going to be natural to want to support your team, right? And so you get the kind of cuing effects where, you know, the elites on your side of the aisle are telling you something, and you really do want to believe it.

And I think, you know, that's an important, you know, point in this conversation is it's not, you know, it's not something about blaming voters. You know, most people don't have a ton of time to check every single thing they hear about politics.

You know, one of the things that I've advocated is holding elites responsible for putting this information out there in the first place, and the kind of fact-checking that Dana has done is one way to do that. And even if it isn't effective at changing people's minds out there, maybe it makes people think twice about putting the information out there in the first place.

CONAN: And Dana, that suggests that there is a, you know, the shame factor: If you can hold the elites responsible for putting out information that's just, well, flat wrong, maybe they can then tell their supporters I might have missed that one.

Mr. MILBANK: Well, I think it's useful to attempt to do that. I'm kind of doubtful that it actually has any effect. I think what's really happening underneath this is, you know, if you look at surveys all across the board, there's declining trust in all of the institutions, whether that's in government, whether that's in the press, whether that's with church. Whatever it is, Americans dont believe anything, so that gives rise to any old wacky conspiracy theory.

And when there are efforts to try to rein this in and say, no, let's agree on the facts, things have sprung up like PolitiFact, the St. Petersburg Times. They just won a Pulitzer Prize for it, and FactCheck, that's through the University of Pennsylvania, they all come out and say no, here are the facts, this is how it is, and objectively, that's how it is. Except the people who have been just told that their facts are wrong by FactCheck are going to go out and attack FactCheck, so there's no way to sort of referee this because it's not actually grounded in fact anymore, and nobody trusts anybody.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Andrew(ph), Andrew with us from Blacksburg in Virginia.

ANDREW (Caller): Hey. I think the one issue that first came to my mind was nuclear energy. And I think that's still one where, you know, it's even more imperative I think now, especially, with our energy future being discussed a lot in the wake of the BP oil spill.

I used to be an environmental activist. I was party secretary with the Green Party here, actually. That was when I was in college. And I think it was once I got out of college, and once I wasn't as insulated, I think, in the people that I hung around so much, and I started I think I had a couple friends.

I moved after college. I had a couple of friends that we were discussing this issue one day, and they were telling me some about in their travels and having been over in Europe, where they actually use a lot more nuclear energy. And when you come down and look at it, and you look at, you know, the cost of nuclear energy versus the cost of some of the other things we were (technical difficulty) and the environmental cost of things like coal and oil, as we're seeing right now, it's actually got a very good track record.

People like to fixate on Three Mile Island, but, I mean, that's (unintelligible) 30 years.

CONAN: Yeah, it's there's still that waste issue to deal with there, Andrew, but...

ANDREW: That's true, but there's no perfect solution. There's no perfect solution, but still, when you look at the total picture, while there is no perfect solution, it is still a it's probably the best mass-production option that we have right now, in my opinion.

CONAN: All right, Andrew, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it. And Brendan Nyhan, I wonder, is there any evidence that over time, as things become perhaps less emotional, the metaphorical, you know, the devil's horns and the tail come off the issue, and people are able to reconsider?

Mr. NYHAN: It's certainly possible. You know, we saw something like this with weapons of mass destruction. You know, that was one of the primary rationales for the war in Iraq, and so even after, you know, that rationale had largely been disproven, people hung on to it. But over time, we saw this kind of flattening out, as people shifted onto other rationales for the war or even came to oppose it.

So I think, you know, as issues become less salient, you know, people can admit, you know, maybe that they were wrong. But that takes a long time, and in a lot of cases, you know, the damage has already been done.

CONAN: I suspect people admit that mistakes were made, not necessarily that they were wrong. Here's an email from Johan(ph) in Dundas in Ontario, Canada:

I am reading Christopher Hitchens' book "God is Not Great" currently. So this phenomenon of evidence rejection is especially relevant to me right now. Are people who adhere to fundamentalist religions more likely to reject evidence and facts in favor of their strongly held views, religious or otherwise? Brendan, is this restricted to one worldview or one political ideology?

Mr. NYHAN: I don't think so. I don't think so. There are people who have made that case in the psychological and political science literatures, but I think the jury is still out. And, you know, the conclusion that my co-author and I came to is that this is really a human problem.

And, you know, we conducted experiments where we found similar resistance to evidence among liberals, and there's other examples like that out there, as well.

CONAN: Let's go next to Chrissie(ph), Chrissie with us from San Francisco.

CHRISSIE (Caller): Yes, I'm just calling to say I changed my mind on two different issues, one about gun ownership. I was originally from Utah, and I didn't think that people should be able to have guns, and I just thought people were crazy to actually have their own guns.

And then I started to talking to more people and kind of educated myself. And it turned out the man that I married, his father makes bullets, and I went out shooting, and I actually think that people should be able to own their guns. Of course, I think background checks, and, you know, there needs to be definitely some controls over that. But I changed my mind pretty dramatically just through, really through self-education.

And then I also changed my point of view on the death penalty. I really believe that people, if they were convicted, they were dead wrong, and they really should have, you know, should be killed.

And then I educated myself again, and I just don't really believe in the death penalty at all. I just don't think that everybody has the same upbringing, the same choices, the same monetary backgrounds, and so I'm really against the death penalty now.

So I've changed my point of view just really through, I think, self-education and actually really great programs like this that are offered to us through NPR.

CONAN: Well, Chrissie, that's very kind of you to say. Thank you very much for that, appreciate it.

CHRISSIE: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email, this from Patrick in Puyallup in Washington: This topic is so important, I feel points to the heart of so many of today's social problems, why so much doesn't get done in politics. The lack of humility makes it hard to take an honest look at one's own views and opinions, causing people to stick with talking lines they know to be contrary to the facts.

And Dana, getting back to the immigration issue and the state of Arizona, talking lines they know to be contrary to the facts, I'm not sure that's right.

Mr. MILBANK: I think in some cases, that is right. It's important to make a distinction between beliefs that people hold and the facts. So a lot of your, the emailers and the callers have spoken about, you know, evolution or nuclear energy or guns and the death penalty, obviously, people can have very different opinions, and there should be a debate on all of these things.

But there should be a common body of facts that everybody can agree on and yet have a difference of opinion. I think and that's certainly the case with immigration, as well.

But I think when you have a public figure like John McCain saying Phoenix, the largest city in his own state, is the number-two kidnapping capital in the world, it's already been disproven by neutral, independent parties, and he continues to say it.

I mean, look, you can't say the man's lying because you don't know what's going on inside his head, but you have to say he certainly should know by now that what he is saying is false, yet he continues to say it.

CONAN: The phenomenon also plays out every day in the office of NPR's ombudsman. Alicia Shepard receives and response to listener comments and complaints about NPR News, those so infrequent complaints. And she joins us here in the Studio 3A.

Alicia, nice to have you back on the program.

ALICIA SHEPARD: Thank you.

CONAN: And where do you see this - give us an example of how this manifests itself.

SHEPARD: Well, I wanted to follow up - I will - but with what Dana said, beliefs versus facts, I think it's the context that they selectively hear. And it's just phenomenal to me how I can have people call about the same story and, yet have heard it so differently. And I think that that plays into something called the hostile media effect...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

SHEPARD: which is that the more neutral a news story is, the more people are likely to bring their own beliefs and biases and points of view towards that story, and they hear it very selectively.

CONAN: This used to be more difficult in the old days when we just had our memories of audio recordings. These days, there are transcripts.

SHEPARD: There are transcripts and then there is Jon Stewart to remind people what they said once.

CONAN: And give us an example of how this manifests in your office.

SHEPARD: Well, for example, there was a story last week about Netanyahus visit to the White House. And in it, the - one particular listener was very upset and said that this story was very biased. And he said, because it only quoted these people. And then I went back and listened and I spoke with Ari Shapiro who had done the story, and he said, well, I also quoted, and he named two other people who represented that man's views. But he falls into that hostile media effect where he listened very selectively and focused on that. And he was also influenced potentially or - I won't say he was, but he could have been by a piece that was in the National Review Online, particularly criticizing that story.

So sometimes it's not even a matter of whether theyve heard the story, it may be something they've read or a LISTSERV that they're on that says contact the ombudsman, or NPR did this today.

CONAN: I wonder, Dana Milbank, does it help when your stories are always in black and white?

Mr. MILBANK: Well, it certainly helps people come up with reasons to disagree with it. I mean, it is nice to be able to point to something and say, you know, show me where the complaint is. I mean, there's a difference between a factual error and just somebody not agreeing with you or feeling that you, you know, sort of stacked the deck one way or the other. If there's a factual error, we want to run a correction. If they're just saying I didn't like what you wrote, well, then maybe you should write a letter to the editor because that's a disagreement of opinion as opposed to a disagreement over fact.

CONAN: Dana Milbank, national political columnist for The Washington Post. Also with us, Brendan Nyhan, a Robert Wood Johnson scholar in health policy research at the University of Michigan, and Alicia Shepard, NPR ombudsman. You're listening TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Brendan Nyhan, I wondered, this is, as I read in your account, a very young field of inquiry.

Mr. NYHAN: It is. You know, political science, for a long time, we focused on things like, could you name all the Supreme Court justices? You know, how many years does a senator serve for, things like that. And, you know, you can do those surveys and you find that people don't know a lot of those things. But I'm not sure it really matters so much whether you know those things. At best, they are proxy for some, you know, more general sense of sophistication about politics.

But these misperceptions, you know, we haven't studied them. And they are important because people are changing their minds in some cases based on the -you know, it's influencing their vote, it's influencing their opinion. And, you know, they're not just holding these misperceptions. They're holding them actually, in some cases, more confidently than people who have the correct view.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NYHAN: So that's part of the reason they're so hard to dissuade.

CONAN: And Alicia Shepard, I'm not going to argue that NPR is never wrong, never makes mistakes. But have there been phenomena where you say, dear reader, if you take a look at the transcript to this story - and I've talked to the reporter and you see that there - the other side that you complained was not represented, was represented, have you - they come back and said, oh, I'm sorry, I was wrong?

SHEPARD: I have to say very rarely does that happen. It's usually, but you didn't consider this or you didn't consider that. I mean, sometimes the transcript is tremendous evidence that it was considered. But it -, I'm sorry, but Mr. Nyhan talked about misperceptions, and I still think it goes back to clinging to your personal beliefs and hearing and reading things through the prism of your personal beliefs.

CONAN: Now, let's get one more caller in. This is Pat(ph), Pat with us from Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

PAT (Caller): Hi, there. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

PAT: I was a member of the born again Christian community. And I thought that I needed to have a good understanding of other people's point of views, so I took it upon myself to read other holy books. Upon which I decided that there is more to it than I realized, and I'm now a pluralist. So I did change my mind.

CONAN: A pluralist believes in, I gather, many things.

PAT: Yes, yes.

CONAN: And that no one book has supremacy over another.

PAT: I come to the conclusion that when you're dealing with the infinite, it's really just foolish to think that anybody has the answer. You know, there's more. It's just too big.

CONAN: And it was just through self-education that you came to this conclusion?

PAT: Yes. I read Tao Te Ching I started with thinking I was going to tear it apart...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

PAT: ...and it didn't happen, and then the Bhagavad Gita, which is fabulous. I read the Book of Mormon and the Quran, and probably some others that aren't coming to me, lesser books.

CONAN: Hmm.

PAT: And there's just, you know, people are looking for truth and I think it's a mistake. I was mistaken to think that it was contained in one belief system.

CONAN: All right. Well...

PAT: Let's put it that way.

CONAN: ...truth is something that we can all have an opinion and argue about. Fact, however, we shouldn't altogether disagree about that. Here's a nice email. This is from Scott Nesler(ph). And he quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson. Every fact is related on side to sensation, and on the other to morals. The game of thought is on the appearance of one of these two sides, to find the other, given the upper to find the underside. He also quotes himself: It's a fact that facts are misused. And Mark Twain: get your facts first and then you can distort them as you please.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So that may be the lesson here. Brendan Nyhan, thank you so much for your time today and good luck with your research.

Mr. NYHAN: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Brendan Nyhan, a Robert Wood Johnson scholar in Health Policy Research at the University of Michigan, joined us today from the studios of member station WUOM in Ann Arbor.

Dana Milbank, national political columnist for The Washington Post, kind enough to join us from a studio at the newspaper. Dana, always nice to have you on the program.

Mr. MILBANK: Thanks very much, Neal.

CONAN: And Alicia Shepard, NPR's ombudsman, joined us here in Studio 3A. And, Lisa, thanks to you as well.

SHEPARD: My pleasure.

CONAN: Up next, it's one of the most important battles in military history and well, you may not have heard of it or you may have only be - have it in the recesses of your memory, the Battle of Cannae, led by the brilliant Carthaginian general, Hannibal. We'll tell you how Carthage beat Rome next.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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