I wish I knew who to blame.
Ever since I read “Denial”, I’ve been talking about the convergence of the facts. That we must go where the facts tell us; facts are not swayed by opinion. Facts just are, they are true, they point the way.
Alas, there’s a big problem with that. A gigantic problem. A yugggge problem. No one trusts the facts anymore.
I wish I knew who to blame. I can point to various culprits. Fox News is a big one, having introduced the notion of putting a particular political spin or slant on the news. As such, many people started discounting news from that source. Another culprit is the financial decline of print media, which forced newspapers to eliminate many editorial positions, including fact checkers and editors. As such, newspapers were no longer bastions of truth, but often presented the news either inaccurately or with particular political slants. Yet another culprit is the Internet, which has allowed anyone and everyone (including moi) to become a publisher, resulting in even more biased or slanted news sources camouflaging themselves as the truth. As such, people chose their curated news source without seeing the bias, and thus refusing to believe any other. The Internet is a culprit in yet another way, by creating echo chambers for news. As such, people don’t even realize they aren’t seeing the full stories or only selected sources that they “like”. A final culprit? The growing distrust of authority in society, making even the formerly reliable news sources now untrustworthy, whether that particular appellation is deserved or not. As such, authoritative papers of records or fact checking sources are now not trusted.
Whatever the culprit, people no longer believe the facts. And that, dear friends and readers, has brought us to where we are today. A society that has given us Donald Trump, and the lies he spreads as facts. It has given us a populace that no longer believes in science; it views science as merely an opinion. It has given us a populace that no longer believes in objective historical fact; it discounts historical facts unless they have been processed by a particular spin.
I could cite numerous examples of the result of this. Climate change deniers. Anti-vaxxers. Conspiracy theorists.
What brought this to a head for me was a discussion prompted by “And Hillary Clinton laughed at a 10 year old who was raped.” This is a particular like that has been promoted by the right wing media, by the Trump news establishment, by the establishment that has ignored facts consistently to build up a picture of Hillary as a demon. A media market that has played the populace just like the antisemitic media in Germany painted the picture that it was the Jews who were responsible for all of Germany’s problems. With today’s media, of course, it isn’t just the Jews. It is those demon Clintons and the liberal establishment.
Because of the distrust of the media, the folks to whom I indicated that statement was wrong did not believe me. You see, I had cited Snopes (which now seems to have a fake-“you’re infected” warning), and Snopes (of course) is a conspiracy of the left. Of course, there are multiple sources pointing out the same thing:
- Washington Post: The facts about Hillary Clinton and the Kathy Shelton rape case
- Annenberg Public Policy Center (Factcheck.org): Clinton’s 1975 Rape Case
- Politico: Trump is wrong: Hillary Clinton did not laugh about the rape of a 12-year-old
- ABC News: Hillary Clinton’s Handling of 1975 Rape Case Emerges Again
Note that the ABC News article is from 2014, well before this year’s campaign.
What are the facts that all these sources agree upon? Clinton did not take the case willingly; the court appointed her based on the 6th Amendment’s guarantee that all parties in a case are entitiled to legal representation. Getting the rapist off? She actually didn’t; she got a plea bargain to a shorter sentence because the prosecution mishandled the evidence, making it suspect. The laughter, not at the victim, but at the prosecution for being sloppy with the evidence, and at the polygraphs for not being as reliable as juries believe they are.
The same people who disbelieve the news believe what they are told: that Clinton was responsible for strongly defending the rapist, even though she knew he was guilty. Never mind the fact that a lawyer in a trial has a legal obligation to defend their client to the best of their abilities, even if they may know that are guilty of the crime. This is especially true when they are a court-appointed legal counsel — they have no choice, no ability to opt out of defending the person. And guess what: if you were that person — perhaps wrongly accused — wouldn’t you want your lawyer to give you the best defense possible. Our country has the legal standard of innocent until proven guilty, and that is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Today, we no longer look at multiple facts to draw our conclusion. We no longer trust our news sources, relying instead on the court of public opinion, on memes that circulate on the Internet, on the small set of sources that we “trust” despite their slant.
This political season has been built on a scaffolding of lies and innuendo, much of it built by the right wing establishment against the Clintons (Bengahzi, Email Servers, Rape, Murders), and to a lesser extent against Trump by the left-wing media establishment. People have become so ensconced in their lies they no longer recognize fact checking from neutral media. They no longer look at where the bulk of the evidence points.
When news services across the political spectrum denounce Trump and endorse Clinton, when pundits and politicians across the political spectrum denounce Trump and endorse Clinton, when there is almost universal acknowledgement that the stories going around about Clinton are patently false — these should people people to a particular conclusion. But when their leader — Donald Trump — denounces all these sources and individuals as the product of a conspiracy against them, and as a result people no longer believe them, well, there’s the biggest danger to our democracy. The erosion of trust in our media, because you can never disprove a conspiracy theory. We have a society that has become susceptible to demagogues, believing unquestioning what they are told, instead of checking for themselves.
Get it through your head: Our mainstream media — major television channels, major market newspapers (not tabloids), and such, are trustworthy. Further, checking a variety of sources and seeing the bulk of them pointing to the same conclusion should further support the theory that the conclusion is right. Believing multiple fringe sources that all bend their reporting should make one suspicious.
Just after posting this, I see one of my extreme conservative friends on FB post the following:
Folks, the Constitution enshrines Freedom Of The Press so that it may freely inform the public of the abuses, lawlessness and tyranny of our government when it becomes corrupt.
But what are we to do when the Press itself becomes just as corrupt, giving itself over to the regime in order to deceive the people to accept despotism, rather than guard against it?
Now you see why I’m worried? When our mainstream media is viewed as corrupt, when people believe mainstream media deceives — that is the opportunity that demagogues and despots pounce upon, for then they can convince people of anything. Perhaps one source is corrupt. Multiple mainstream sources, doing independent reporting, are trustworthy.