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By Maggie Wells
Staff Writer 

The death of facts

 

October 11, 2016



As I’m writing this, I’m listening to (and half watching) the first debate between Secretary Hillary Clinton and reality TV superstar, Donald Trump. As a former varsity speech team member and judge, I know it isn’t a real debate. Real debates take preparation and in real debates, participants can be called out for lies.

The Trump campaign has successfully lobbied for softball questions and demanded networks and moderators have no fact checkers in real time at the debates.

No fact checkers.

And the mainstream networks agreed to not check facts in real time. Which means viewers not familiar with facts might not have any clue as to whether or not they were being lied to by either candidate.

That, my friends, signals the death of journalism. It is the calling of journalism to be as accurate as one can be — given time, publishing dates and the accuracy and truthfulness of those interviewed by reporters. It is its role to provide diverse perspectives on a given story. But at the end of the day, it is most responsible to the facts.

I’m sure, like me you’ve watched all year as people in the larger media world talk about debatable facts. Or which facts they believe. The entire “climate change” hoax conspiracy theory is based on this idea that one doesn’t need to base one’s views on facts. One can simply believe one’s own facts.

No. One. Can’t.

The neglect by corporate media of the story of the Standing Rock Sioux plight and all current pipeline issues throughout the United States, (like the pipeline spill in Louisiana right now) also demonstrates a lack of addressing newsworthy facts.

I’m personally done with the anti-factsers—be they individuals or corporate media companies.

If your news source finds fact checking problematic, then it should no longer be considered a news source. It’s a source of entertainment and amusement and nothing more.

The bright side in all this comes to my great delight and surprise. I started my post-college life at two consecutive newspapers before graduate school and teaching took over. I left print journalism behind thinking like many of us did, that journalism held no future.

What I didn’t realize was that: a) I would come to miss journalism as a career, and b) that a place like Feather Publishing actually now represents some of the best of free journalism. Feather Publishing is locally owned and operated with local reporters. Our publisher doesn’t decide stories based on whether stockholders will be offended by facts. I appreciate that more and more these days.

I’m also a big fan of Twitter. Most of the stories I’ve cared about since 2010 I’ve learned about first on Twitter. Often people tweet their experience in real time. It’s democratized information at your fingertips.

Back to the debate. Like many of us, I watch television with my laptop open—mostly to fact check — because I just don’t trust television anymore.

The fact that I could simultaneously watch Donald Trump deny having ever supported the Iraq War, while watching him support it on YouTube, takes me to a new level of the Meta media experience.

I watch him deny, saying climate change was hoax made up by the Chinese, as I looked up, the tweet he made that said climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese.

In real time, I can watch video of both the original statements and the lies at the debate. It drives me absolutely batty. What does it say about our culture that we can do this now? That lying no longer matters and is not a mark against anyone’s character to do so?

I just don’t have the DNA required to get away with that. I’ve always been a bad liar and I have absolutely no poker face. There’s an incredible amount of audacity in people who can just do that.

Facts are not always comfortable things. If they were comfortable things colleges and churches wouldn’t attempt to cover up rape, the food industry would label GMOs without being forced and people stopped for traffic violations wouldn’t feel the need to record their interactions with police.

In the interest of facts — regardless on how you’re voting next month — I thought I would spend the evening checking out all the fact checking sites online that did watch and critique the debate for accuracy of statements. The following is what my research gleaned on the evening of the debate and the next day as I was sifting through information.

In the end, two news sources did real time fact checking: the sparsely watched Bloomberg TV and npr.org online. There’s always the BBC, which thankfully has saved me many times.

So here it is. Some facts of interest in the context of the Sept. 26 debate:

1. Tax returns are not the same thing as financial disclosure forms — you don’t find out tax rate or charitable giving.

2. There is an abundance of video, print, and social media evidence that anyone can watch or listen to that shows Mr. Trump denying climate change, supporting the Iraq War, the invasion of Libya, etc., and championing the delegitimizing of Obama’s presidency via the “Birther Movement,” which he now denies.

3. Economic predictions. Economic predictions are just that. Predictions. Clinton quoted a study done this summer, which shows her policy plan would add jobs to the economy. The same study found that Trump’s plan was a variation on trickle-down economics, which has long since been debunked. Neither candidate can predicate the future.

4. NAFTA. Neither candidate had a clear picture on this one either. Perhaps Clinton is sentimental regarding Bill Clinton’s creation of it. NAFTA only covers three countries and while manufacturing jobs have gone to Mexico (which also explains the huge drop in immigration from Mexico), they’ve also gone to Southeast Asia.

Some economists now argue that NAFTA actually never had the huge impact people thought it would have. However, seeing as Trump the businessman uses manufacturing in Mexico and elsewhere outside the country for even his campaign apparel, it seems kind of disingenuous.

5. Clinton is on record being for the TTP trade deal. Again. Video proof. Her current stance against it came after former opponent Bernie Sanders gained in popularity partially in opposition to it. She is now on record saying the final TTP bill had add-ons she didn’t like. Fair enough.

6. The self-made myth. It probably depends on how you see the world, but it’s probably hard to count yourself as self-made if your father loaned you $14 million over a 10-year period. That kind of sounds like help. I’m always baffled that Clinton never puffs herself up on this one. Yes. She is a rich former lawyer and politician — but she comes from small town business owners.

7. National debt. Forgive me. I’ve been reading the Hamilton biography (did you know that our country never really intended to pay off its debts?) Trump at the debate claimed he didn’t state that he’d try to negotiate down the national debt. He did so on video at a rally in May. He also claimed his administration would never default because it could print money.

There was more of course. I haven’t even touched on Trump citing crime statistics from the 1980s as 21st-century crime indicators.

In the 90-minute broadcast, some fact checkers have averaged that Hillary Clinton told three half-truths in that time period (in attacking her opponent’s business record). In that same period of time, fact-checkers from seven sources averaged Donald Trump’s lies at one every three minutes.

This election is garnering little enthusiasm from either side of the moderate electorate. We the American people seem to be either too inundated with propaganda and too saturated with negativity, or still pining for the days of a valiant non-lying Bernie Sanders or a moderate voice of reason like Jeb Bush.

At least, our resignation seems honest.

 

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