On the PBS News Hour this week, correspondent Tamara Keith coined a curious phrase. In response to anchor Gwen Ifill’s observation that “there seems to be an epidemic of untruthfulness” in the presidential race this year, Keith called it “a backlash against fact checking.”
That’s twisted and upside down. One could better call it simply “lying,” the insistence on the right to lie and get away with it.
Donald Trump comes to mind first, of course. He’s set the tone for making lying the operational campaign method of virtually the entire Republican field.
Those shady “fact checkers?” When they say, “No, that didn’t happen,” all the candidate needs to say back is, “Yes, it did.” End of story.
Indicative is Trump’s insistence that thousands of Muslims cheered from the New Jersey side of the river as the events of 9/11 unfolded.
If untrue, which it is, this is the worst kind of lying racist indictment imaginable. But Trump has apparently been allowed to get away with it unscathed.
Then there is the pack of lies in Ben Carson’s autobiography. But when “fact checkers” started exposing them, Carson howled about discrimination and witch hunting, and it worked. He was left alone after that, and his popularity hardly suffered.
Is it that the truth really doesn’t matter anymore? Keith commented about the public’s “siloed reality” limitations, where only points of view that someone already holds are allowed into one’s mind, whether by who is permitted into or “unfriended” from a Facebook page, or some other way of closing out anything that does not reinforce existing prejudices.
Truth? The child sticks fingers in her ears and yells, “La la la la la.”
But we know from the days of Pontius Pilate that the question of truth is perhaps the most important of all. The cynic Pilate’s scoffing at any claim to know the truth was the context for perhaps the strongest historical symbol of injustice and an indifferent tyranny that arbitrarily executed it.
It rings in my ears to this day the shrill, powerful and indignant indictment of official lies that the late and legendary White House journalist Helen Thomas intoned, recalling for me when, from the front row of the White House press briefing room, she yelled, her soft voice rising to the ears of the president over the din of the room. “What about the truth?,” she demanded.
In that case, the occasion was Thomas’ relentless effort to force President Bush and his administration to reveal the truth about their motives for the invasion of Iraq. She knew all they’d provided were lies for the gullible.
To challenge corrupt power, one can do so only from the standpoint of the one power that is higher than the power of any mortal, even a president. That is the power of truth.
So for all the lip service being given to ways in which the next president may change things in Washington, if the candidates are not held to the highest standard of truth, then it’s all just blowing smoke.
Yes, Donald Trump, a racist pig, is also a filthy liar. But so, apparently, are his GOP challengers, and by the popularity of all this, many in the GOP rank and file, as well. He is at the top of this steamy, rotten heap, but not by himself.
It was by lies and lying innuendos that McCarthyism terrorized the entire nation in the 1950s, and it was not until courageous journalists were able to counter them with the truth that that reign of terror was brought down.
Those who would trample truth, itself, under their feet are sociopaths who will not hesitate to use whatever means necessary to eliminate every obstacle to the consolidation of their own power.
If any creature like a Trump were to ever get elected, or elevated, to power in this land, then our heroic democratic experiment would be over.
Finally to the media: If ratings rule, not truth, then you are ultimate enablers of our nation’s demise. You do not stand for free speech, you ruin it.