George Orwell, author of “1984,” noted: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful, murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Not all politicians are guilty of such conduct.
However, we are reaching a crisis point for citizens; are Americans attentive enough to seek reliable knowledge so that they can make informed judgments to bolster our imperiled democracy.
Are you among the 44 percent of Americans whose main source of news comes from Facebook?
That statistic alone dramatizes our increasing vulnerability to social media “news silos,” and diminishing attention to a variety of well-sourced, fact-driven reporting.
Created in 2004, Facebook is only one of many developments that have intensified the spread of “opinion-based” news rather than reporting with professional, journalistic standards.
Deregulated talk radio in the 1980s (with the bloviating Rush Limbaugh) was followed by the democratization of the internet in the 1990s, along with “pundit-driven” cable coverage (especially partisan on Fox),) with Twitter soon after in 2006.
These expanding sources do not automatically mean that “Fake News” is dominating our nation.
If opinions are supported with data they have a rightful place in our public discourse. As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan emphasized, “You are entitled to your opinions, but not to the facts.”
Neither the U.S., nor any other nation, has ever been free from fake news, as Michael Schudson shows in “Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers.” Indeed, for much of American history, most newspapers were openly partisan, while Hearst and Pulitzer also made them dangerously sensational, contributing to the Spanish-American War.
However, during the past century, we have made enormous progress in the professionalization of journalism, in terms of education and training of journalists and of enforcing standards to produce reliable, verifiable data.
We still have partisan publications; for example, the scandal-mongering, mostly fictitious, “National Enquirer” (a major booster of the 45th President) continues to have a key spot at the exits of many supermarkets.
The best of our professional newspapers and magazines make errors.
But, unlike some officials in high places, they print their errors and offer corrections and apologies.
Have you ever heard the President of the United States apologize for any of his thousands of documented lies, some of them spoken repeatedly? (It’s been suggested he should hire a squad of fact-checkers before he speaks or takes to his twitter network).
So, while fake news is not a new development, there is no doubt that we are having a major relapse (from journalistic progress) that endangers our democracy.
“To lie and get away with it is the first step in political control,” Lee McIntyre argues in his book, “POST-TRUTH.”
McIntyre cites Holocaust historian Timothy Snyder, whose “On Tyranny” concludes that “post-truth is pre-fascism.”
How many Americans still uncritically accept “alternative facts” offered by Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders and many others in the Trump administration?
Is anyone prepared to challenge the conclusion that the President of the United States lies repeatedly?
Mark Shields, who received a journalistic “civility award” said this week that President Trump’s conduct is “shameful beyond description.”
As Trump tries to foster a “post-truth” nation, what do his supporters conclude about developments this past week?
As conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer (who died a few days ago) was being eulogized, it was emphasized that he could not support Trump.
Two lifelong conservatives, George Will and Steven Schmidt (McCain’s key staffer in 2008) both said this week that they will be voting Democratic in 2018 because the Republican Party has lost its soul in abiding by Trump.
Some, like Bret Stephens, who won a Pulitzer Prize at the Wall Street Journal, approve of a number of Trump’s policies, but find his personal conduct, especially his constant lying and egomaniacal bullying, so deplorable that they want him out as President.
Stephens quit the Republican Party before Trump was elected, and then he quit the Wall Street Journal after his attacks on Republican Party “enablers” led to attacks on him.
He is still a conservative, but his column is now featured in The New York Times on Saturdays.
Jennifer Rubin, another lifelong conservative, widely admired for her probing social analyses, has not relinquished her social and political views, but she advocates (and predicts) Trump’s removal from office before his term is over.
To those who fear Pence because he has a lifetime record as a far-right movement conservative, Rubin says not to worry because Trump will have weakened the presidency so much that Pence will have diminished power, even before Democrats take the House.
Time magazine captioned the cover of its April 3, 2017 issue, “Is Truth Dead?”
Editor Nancy Gibbs placed her focus directly on Trump who “says a great many things that are demonstrably false.”
But, she avers, Trump is more than ‘a serial liar.” His “shamelessness is a strategy.” To what ends – distraction, deflection, unfairly denouncing others?
McIntyre reminds us that “nearly two-thirds of voters polled during the campaign said that Trump was not trustworthy, but he won the election anyway.”
Should we expect more from American citizens?
Can Trump be held to civilized standards to avoid daily lying? Can anything be done about the dangers of “post-truth” to American democracy?
I wrote this column before I saw the superb essay by Timothy Egan in June 23 New York Times: “Trickle-Down Trumpsters and the Debasement of Language.”
It should be required reading for all citizens.
[To be continued, “Ways to Deal with Post-Truth America”]