Image by the European Parliament
A few weeks back, Time magazine ran a story titled, “The Truth Is Out There in 2016. Way Out There.” It begins with a vignette about a Donald Trump backer in North Carolina who believes climate change is a hoax, drug cartels control the government and, because it has just popped up as a headline on his so-called smartphone, that Obama has announced plans to seek a third presidential term.
The Trump backer, Allan Thiel, complains that “people aren’t being taught history anymore” and “they’ve dumbed everybody down.” As if to prove the point, he elaborates, “Our country has never had any problems for the last 200 years. We’ve never had a problem with guns or racism until the last eight years.”
Wow. The article continues, “To simply grade the accuracy of Thiel’s statements misses the point, because Thiel’s beliefs do matter. They show up in double digits in national polls and belong to a reality shared by many Trump supporters….”
Okay, but we still must grade the accuracy of such statements. That a “reality” is shared does not make it real. Separating fact from fiction can actually be done.
As we head into the final days of a presidential election in which Trump is concocting deliberate lies about the integrity of the electoral system, possibly to incite his followers into insurrection, the truth has never been more important.
We needn’t belabor the point that rigging a national election is logistically impossible, as officials of both parties have stressed. It would require thousands of people conspiring to subvert American democracy while somehow concealing their historic crime. Considering that the Clinton campaign can’t even keep its emails private, that’s a too-heavy lift.
No, what we as a nation must do is insist that truth matters.
Let’s start by sticking up for journalism, and for showing a fidelity to facts that would put Trump to shame, were he capable of it. Of course there is bias within journalistic outlets, but also a baseline commitment to getting facts right.
Charlie Sykes, a conservative radio host in Wisconsin and MSNBC contributor, has been eloquent in lamenting how, through decades of “demonizing the liberal mainstream media,” commentators including himself have “destroyed the credibility of any credible (media) outlet.” Says he:
“We’ve basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers.”
Now Sykes is weary of dealing with “all the crazy stuff out there. How many times can you say that Obama isn’t gay or a Muslim or that he wasn’t born in Kenya?” Knowing that many Americans believe such things, he wonders, “How did this happen? And are we complicit by not having pushed back more aggressively?”
The answer is yes.
We have allowed truth to become devalued and we need to reinvest. Let’s restore respect for media institutions that take pains to get things right. Let’s require verification as a prerequisite for belief. And when the gullible and dishonest spout nonsense, let’s all say loud and clear: “Wrong!”
Bill Lueders is associate editor of The Progressive. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project.