Fact checking in the internet age has become a “you decide” process. The dialectics of the web has created clusters of information bubbles. In these bubbles, false claims go unrefuted. If you “disagree,” you can click elsewhere. If it sounds good or feels good, it must be true.
Facts are no longer germane to media discussions. Did you know there are more than 600,000 Muslims living in New York City? That the much debate mosque is really a cultural center? That there are two full-fledged mosques within 8 blocks of the World Trade Center site? The New York Post wrote of “a mosque rising over ground zero,” yet Park Place is a narrow side street and the Center would not be visible from the cross streets or the ground zero site. Here’s a link the Washington Post provided that provides a 360 panorama of Park Place and the site. Take a look at the store fronts and buildings: http://bit.ly/bM1wMx. (Move your mouse or finger to turn the view.)
The key to truth in this new age is “agreement.” Truth is the power of narrative appeal, a function of flavor and followers. Truth is in numbers, even if achieved by twisted assumptions. False assumptions in the blurred names of news and entertainment that can achieve numbers is certified as “truth.”
This new definition of truth as an agreement with “twists,” achieved by illogical, emotional, combative shorthand, broadcast in a greed for numbers has emerged as the model for new media. Traditional radio and television has altered its values and reorganized to reflect the new conditions.
Those who disagree are attacked as straw persons in sound bites. These attacks are teased in blurbs before the commericals. Thus, truth has a new function, it is no longer intended to bring us together. The function of this “truth” is inverse; it builds greater numbers even as it divides. It motors on, despite the occasional train wreck we saw with Shirley Sherrod. Despite the distasteful use of a racial slur 11 times on national radio. (Yes, I support the first amendment. No, I am against hip-hop artists and entertainers using the word and support the campaign to “bury the word,” created by Pennslyvania’s Delores Tucker.)
Only Rachel Maddow, who sits alone every night, leading a debate by herself, using video clips, seems to have success engaging the old notions of truth.
Here’s a case in point: I received a twitter message asserting Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Republican. I clicked the link (ahh, numbers!). The banner did claim Dr. King was a Republican. In support, no quotes were offered from speeches, interviews, associates, colleagues, or Republican themselves. No evidence that Dr. King endorsed Nixon or Goldwater, met with Republican groups for political purposes during the civil rights movement, or supported local Republican candidates at the state level. Not Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Strom Thurmond, Lindsay Graham, Bob Dole, Jesse Helms, Sharron Angle, Raul Paul, Eric Cantor, or Lester Maddox have ever made this claim.
Yet it is circulated and re-broadcast as undocumented “truth.” I fight it here.
This is Marxist logic by default that stands truth on its head. Truth be told, those who adopted American values and assimilated were not driven not by slogans or political rhetoric or vigilance of this “second America,” who are vigilantes of the American way as defined by themselves.
Comparisons are in, too. Remember how we were once told not to follow the crowd or leaders that led the way to trouble? Well the eighth grade justification of “they did it/do it” is big right now: blame Bush, the Saudi’s have no Christian churches, rappers do it, taxes on millionaires will sink the country–since when did we accept someone else’s bad behavior as justification for stupidity of our own?
Americans have been motivated by an inner will to embody the values splendidly seen and held out by the “first America,” the one that wrote and adopted the world’s most progressive constitution. The struggle between oppression and progress are not opposite sides of the same coin. We can’t go forward imitating the bad guys.
Lurking in the shadows, are those who are better at justifying and reviewing–and denying–than they are at guiding, directing, and heroically sounding the alarm. (Albeit, several media personalities make that claim in the name of half truths and bigger ratings.) If you avoid the danger, effectively “nothing” happens, and there’s no reward. If you decipher the failures, there are prizes. Moral imperatives are not working . . . To change the behaviour, what should the incentives be? John Boehner got one thing right: photo opps won’t create jobs. But Obama also makes sense: out commitment to freedom must be unshakeable.
What replaces geniune debate is dogma and mantras.
Without a better grasp of political economy, or real comparisons to historic examples, or a winning plan of action, the media and many leaders and policy makers take the path of least resistance to achieve their mission and leave the structural brokeness for others to pick over the bones.
Truth? “You decide.”
Thanks for reading! /wr. Boehner and Obama quotes from their twitter stream. All images, fair use. Tom Feelings is the artist for the image directly above, from his book, “The Middle Passage.” Parts of this post have appeared as my comments on Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman’s blog, “The Conscience of a Liberal.”