Monday, October 20, 2008

Is it better to be left in the dark or blinded by the light?

This map has since been fact checked (and checked, and checked...).

Around the same time children learn that covering ones eyes doesn’t mean he or she is invisible, they usually learn that just because they say it, it doesn’t make it true. This sense of awareness, however, seems to fade when applied to the media consuming nation as a whole.  (Just one exhibit?

In the days of insta-news, it’s hard to forget that people like are around to vet you “Faster than the speed of spin.” Or as Sarah Palin puts it, people like to do that “who said what at what time and we’ll have proof” ”thing”. With innumerable resources at hand, especially with the rise of the Internet, there are very few facts that can’t be checked. But just to make things easier, organizations like have stationed themselves to “put the facts out there and let the chips fall where they may.” More or less, the facts are out there.

But questions remain.

In light of the “fact-check it” trend, Daniel Libit, of begs the question: “Has the drumbeat of ”fact-checks” blended into white noise, letting significant misstatements and deceptions get lost in the mix?” Has “Fact” lost its clout? Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, quoted in the same article, seems to think so: “It is becoming wallpaper. After a while, you get enough of a pattern on the wall you don’t even know it’s there.” Could it be—fact checkers are blinding us with the truth?

Fact checking has been as fast and frequent as ever this campaign; and yet, its impact seems to be somewhat less than perceptible. The oft-cited case of Palin’s Bridge to Nowhere plays upon this point. “Thanks, but no thanks,’ she claims; stopped at her hand, asserts the party. A quick search on, however, implies the issue is a more ”complicated” than that.

This seems to be were things get interesting. In his story “The Lies We Bought: Unchallenged ‘Evidence’ For War,” John MacArthur quotes Peter Teeley, a press secretary for George H.W. Bush as saying, “You can say anything you want during a debate, and 80 million people hear it.” In the case that “anything” turns out to be false, and journalists correct it, “So what. Maybe 200 people read it, or 2,000 or 20,000.” The drumbeat of fact-checkers might be loud, but repetition is the father of learning and the echo chamber is deafening.

It seems that it’s not the quality of the statements released but the quantity that matters. And in fact, the incessant scrutiny may be hurting whatever truths are out there. “The one thing I worry about is by doing it the way we do, putting up articles one after another, we reinforce the notion that all politicians are liars and it doesn’t matter who gets elected,” says Brooks Jackson, director of More frighteningly, “We’re so hyper about fact-checking,” said a senior McCain aide in Libit’s article, “that you have candidates actually curtailing what they believe they can tell the American people.” 

Oh the irony.  In seeking truth, it seems we have only been turned into cynics—cynics undeserving of honesty.  

This leaves me fearful: if "truthfulness" carries such little weight, then what exactly gives form to public figures and stories?  In the absence of fact, what blood pumps through the veins of journalism?  Without honest reporting, what is left?

1 comment:

M. Dery said...

Really, truly interesting post, buzzing with big ideas: has hard fact lost its currency? Does truth-squadding, irony of ironies, cloud rather than obscure our deeper understanding of things? Is it complicit in undermining our faith in elected officials? Does it aid and abet the creeping cynicism that Some People Say is corroding the democratic dream from the inside out? Smart stuff; very compelling. I'd like to see a more discriminating use of links. They're sprinkled all over, like MSG, with little thought (in some instances) for their relevance. For example, the JUST ONE EXHIBIT link has nothing to do with our lack of critical thinking about the media. In fact, it's an instance of one judge's VIGILANCE regarding matters of fact. Also, Palin was expressing her hope that the pundits would vindicate her, the morning after the debate, in her allegations about Biden, whereas you imply here that she was disparaging the current mania for fact-checking.
* "Fact checking has been as fast and frequent as ever this campaign; and yet, its impact seems to be somewhat less than perceptible." Is this really true? Isn't there a direct correlation between truth-squadding and the plunge in Palin's poll numbers? Initially, before her TV interviews and the subsequent fact-checking, it was one big lovefest with Six-Pack America. Then the media got its teeth into her interview statements, and got some boots on the ground up in Wasilla to start vetting her, and---mirabile dictu, a dizzy drop in her approval ratings. Doesn't that say something about the effectiveness of hard fact in stopping the spread of viral myth? Also, if repetition is a friend to the spread of such myths, doesn't the same law hold true for fact-checking? In other words, if you repeat a correction enough, doesn't it get some traction in the mass mind? Isn't that what the Palin plunge proves? Or does it? I'm just sayin'...