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Defending the Truth and the Truth-Sayers

September 19, 2018

I just finished reading David Lawrence Jr’s book, A Dedicated Life – Journalism, Justice, and a Chance for Every Child. David has had a storied career in journalism and as the publisher of both the Detroit Free Press and the Miami Herald as well as being an incredibly effective advocate for children everywhere. I can most highly recommend it as an absolutely thought provoking read.

I was particularly taken by his analysis of the role of journalism and the free press in our nation today. Especially as it relates to the public’s understanding of the “truth” of the facts that inform our heated discussions of the major questions confronting our country and the world.

Cries of “fake news” by President Trump and others when they don’t like what they hear or read, instead of confronting the issues based on provable facts, are in my view incredibly destructive to our democracy. I believe it is something that should be more than just troubling to any patriotic thinking American.

Thus, I was struck by several quotes David used to illustrate his arguments starting with the words of the late Senator David Patrick Moynihan, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” This is especially true when the “facts” being spouted by the nay-sayers such as our President are simply made up out of thin air and whole cloth.

Their shrill repetition drummed into the public’s ear become nothing more than Soviet style propaganda intended to cloud America’s thinking. The result is beautifully defined by another quote Lawrence uses from the Russian political activist and chess grandmaster, Garry Kasparov, “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

This exactly illustrates what the President is doing when he and his surrogates excoriate our newspapers and news networks as the “enemies of the people” or as purveyors of fake news and lies when what such news outlets are really doing is trying their best to report the facts as they are so we can make our own judgments. Thus, when the President’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani declares on national television that “truth isn’t truth” this is nothing more than propaganda double speak. It must be viewed for what it is, part of the attempt to keep the nation and the world from focusing on the facts they don’t want us to understand.

All of this should remind Americans why our Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. It’s because the very people the President vilifies and is trying to muzzle serve as our watchdogs. We must protect them so they can continue to freely protect us.

To paraphrase David’s words in A Dedicated Life:

…if readers-viewers-listeners… cannot distinguish between real news and fake news or between truth and falsehoods…[t]his inability to do so poses the gravest threat to American democracy of [our] lifetimes. We are lost as a nation if we cannot trust the media to give us the whole story. The media are essential to the checks-and-balances of our republic…[They] ought to be democracy’s greatest, most essential forum for vigorous debate, for the honorable confrontation of ideas and opinions.

So, we cannot allow those in power, especially the President of the United States, duck the hard questions and issues by tweeting out accusations of fake news. If our leaders and their supporters want a debate, then let’s have one. But on terms of respect and verifiable facts as opposed to warped and demagogic wishful thinking.  Then, Mr. President, applying the words of another President, Harry Truman, “if you can’t stand the heat [of public scrutiny] get out of the kitchen.”