It’s interesting what stands out when you’re listening…
Last night I tuned in to The Gulf Screen Guild Theatre “Between Americans” (CBS, Original air date December 7, 1941) on WPFW- FM. The show had been written by Norman Corwin and was completed several days before its scheduled airdate – the day of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
President Franklin Roosevelt had gotten word to William B. Lewis former VP of Programming for CBS several months earlier and asked for a show to be written about American values to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Corwin was reluctantly recruited. It’s a compelling listen…at least the part that was replayed last night and narrated by Orson Welles. The messages about the importance of the First Amendment, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are powerful…as is the definition of America as a series of communities and neighborhoods, working together through belief in common values. 63 million Americans listened across four networks (that’s an amazing 47%+ of the U.S. population of 133,402,000 that year).
Earlier in the day, I watched a wonderful film noir, Northside 777, starring Jimmy Stewart. In it, Stewart plays a Chicago reporter who follows the facts and moves from being certain of a convicted police-killer’s guilt to believing and proving his innocence. It’s a story about truth and the essential role of the press as Americans saw it in 1948, when the movie was made.
Fast forward to the present…
Last week Scottie Nell Hughes, a Trump surrogate and the News Director of the Tea Party News Network was part of a panel on the Diane Rehm radio show
Esquire reported on what Hughes had to say, summing it up in the words of another participant, James Fallows of Atlantic magazine…
“There’s no longer such thing as fact, because anything is true if enough people believe it. There’s no longer such thing as fact, because anything is true if enough people believe it.”
As Esquire’s Jack Holmes wrote,
“Hughes illustrated a defining principle of Trumpism.”
So, 75 years after a president asked for a radio show about American values based on truth, we have come to a president who uses words as a tool…and assaults the truth-tellers.
Less than a week after Hughes appearance on Diane Rehm’s show, the Washington Post and others reported on “Pizzagate” and editorialized on it. It’s another illustration of the very real consequences of devaluing truth.
To sum it up, a 28 year old man from North Carolina walked into a DC pizzeria yesterday Sunday with a shotgun and other weapons. His goal was to “self-investigate” a debunked (and outrageous) story on the false news circuit on the Internet. People run. He fired his rifle and the police arrest him.
The story that moved him to action had been put out in the last days of the presidential campaign. It claimed that Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta, among others, were running a pedophilia ring out of the back rooms of the restaurant. He was looking for the hidden tunnels where children were supposedly being held and tortured.
This man’s actions may be a glimpse into our future.
In November, Buzzfeeds Craig Silverman reported on his study showing that between August and Election Day there were more Facebook engagements for fake news than fact-based news. (No, Pope Francis did not endorse Trump…the media push just said he did. No, Hillary Clinton didn’t sell weapons to ISIS…the fake political media just said she did).
Fake news is becoming a successful strategy. It’s an action and actions have consequences that we are beginning to see.
As President-elect Trump’s Ms. Hughes, said…
“Well, I think it’s also an idea of an opinion. And that’s—on one hand, I hear half the media saying that these are lies. But on the other half, there are many people that go, ‘No, it’s true.’ And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts—they’re not really facts. Everybody has a way—it’s kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.”
We are being pushed down a rabbit hole where – for now – we can choose our own reality. If the press creates an inconvenient story based on research and facts, the solution is now in place…create your own story out of whole cloth. Make it exciting enough and it will go viral. If your opponent is strong in an area, make up a story discrediting him or her in that very area. Make it engaging enough and you will impact the opinions of millions of people.
Alternate or fake news is just a step in the process. Once the credibility of an independent press and fact based news are destroyed and strong leaders seek more unrestrained power, the only news will be the opinion news that is allowed.
It happened in Russia
It happened in Iran.
It happened in many other nations.
The process has begun in the U.S. If President-elect Trump is as smart as he tells us he is and intolerant of other opinions as we have seen, what he is doing with his press attacks is not in ignorance of the First Amendment. It is a strategic step to take it down as an inconvenience.
And people like the true believer in the DC pizzeria…maybe they have a future in this brave new world.
For the rest of us, the preservation of our long-held values may be the defining test of who we are.
Amendment I to the Constitution of the United States
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.