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The War on Facts
We Americans are notoriously cynical about politicians, and for good reasons. We complain that they all lie to us to get elected, but most politicians are too smart to tell outright lies. They may exaggerate, distort the truth or take a quote out of context in order to mislead you without actually lying.
Smart politicians usually make sure there is some small truth behind what they say so they can’t be nailed for lying to us. It’s actually very rare for a politician to tell an outright lie – or at least it used to be.
Something Has Changed
Just recently something has changed. It is becoming more common for politicians to lie without any kernel of truth to back them up. Here are a few examples.
- Recently, members of Congress killed a bill that mandates background checks to buy a gun by claiming it would lead to gun registration - even though the bill did exactly the opposite. It specifically made gun registration illegal.
- Some politicians say we need to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) because it adds too much to our national debt. However, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that the ACA reduces the national debt by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next two decades. Nevertheless, these politicians continue to repeat this lie.
- For years Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi has been criticized for saying that Congress needed to pass the Affordable Care Act so they could find out what is in it - implying that they never read the bill.
Watch video of Nancy Pelosi's actual statement here.
- Pelosi Comment: We Have To Pass This Bill...
Although the truth about this statement has repeatedly been made clear, the false version of this quote is one of the most often repeated lies by politicians and political commentators of all time.
- But that's not what she said. Pelosi was speaking to the American people - not to Congress - when she said, "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it away from the fog of controversy." She was saying Congress should pass the bill so the American people could see what's in it instead of relying on the lies they had been told by Republicans.
Each of these examples are outright lies, not just exaggerations or distortions, by people who know the truth. Yet they are far too often allowed by our media to get away with these lies unchallenged.
Don't Challenge my Beliefs
Sadly, the problem is not just that politicians are more eager to lie to us; it’s that too many people would rather hear a comforting lie than an awkward truth.
During political debates today, instead of looking at the same set of facts and arguing about the solution to a problem, it is more common for one side to reject the facts they don’t want to hear.
We used to laugh when people insisted that the Earth is flat or the Moon landing was faked, but today, rather than be persuaded by facts that may dispute their beliefs, many people choose to embrace shaky information from unreliable sources that confirm their views.
Tell Me What I Want to Hear
It’s gotten so bad that we now have news organizations that specifically pander to your particular political bias. Fox News is famous for targeting the conservative audience and MSNBC is pursuing the progressive TV viewers.
Is Fox News Fair and Balanced?
A recent review conducted by Politifact.com of statements made on air by FOX News commentators, hosts and pundits showed that fully 60% of on air statements were rated as False, Mostly False, or Pants on Fire. Another 18% were rated as half true while only 22% of statements were rated as True or Mostly true.
Yet some surveys indicate that 25% of people say they trust Fox News more than any other TV source for accurate information about politics and current events.
A similar review of pundits and commentators at MSNBC showed that they fared somewhat better than Fox with 44% of on air statements rated as False, Mostly False or Pants on Fire. Another 22% were rated as half true and 34% were rated as True or Mostly True.
The bad news is that each of these news organizations tell their target audience what they want to hear, but not necessarily the truth. This enables people with strong political views to get their news from the source that is most likely to confirm their opinions.
Which of these do you consider to be the most truthful and reliable source for news and factual information?
There Was a Time When Facts Settled Arguments
Rather than basing their opinions on factual information, many people form their opinions first and then look for facts to support them. In the absence of real facts or even a rational argument to support their views, people will grasp onto whatever they can – even an outright lie – as long as it reinforces their view.
There was a time when facts settled arguments, when accurate information really mattered. That no longer seems true today.
To be honest, most of us tend to give more weight to those facts that support our views than we do to facts that dispute them. But rational people can be persuaded to reconsider their beliefs when new information becomes available.
Opinions Are Not Facts
During a political discussion with a friend, I stated some objective facts which I believed strongly supported my point of view. He told me he didn’t care about my “liberal” facts because he had his “conservative” facts. I tried to tell him that Facts are neither liberal nor conservative. They are just facts.
Yet his “facts” were really political opinions and commentary he’d heard. Many people still do not understand the difference between fact and opinion. You can objectively verify facts, but opinions depend on your beliefs. Opinions may be very compelling but they should not carry the same weight as facts.
Comedian John Oliver once showed a Fox News poll indicating that 1/3 of Americans didn't believe in climate change. Fox implied that this poll cast some doubt on the science of climate change. But polls are irrelevant when debating scientific facts. If you asked, which number is larger, 5 or 15, even if 90% of people answered 5, the correct answer would still be 15.
Scientific Fact vs. Political Convenience
After scientists collected climate data all over the world, 365 days a year for several decades, they concluded that the average year-round, worldwide temperature is increasing over the years. This increase corresponds with increases in the production of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. The long term trend threatens millions of lives and could cost trillions of dollars. Ninety seven percent of climate scientists agree that human induced global warming is occurring. There is no debate about this in the scientific community.
The cost of reducing CO2 production to slow the rate of climate change is tiny compared to the cost of doing nothing.
It's Not What You Know, It's Who Signs Your Paycheck
Big powerful corporations with massive profits have spent millions of dollars working to dispute the overwhelming science of climate change and prove it is a worldwide hoax perpetrated by the scientific community.
Meanwhile, the scientists and the environmental groups who have the facts on their side do not have much money with which to influence Congress. There’s just not a lot of profit to be made by protecting the environment.
Some politicians will gladly change their views to satisfy the highest bidder. Others, like John McCain and Newt Gingrich, who once argued that we must act to stop global climate change, suddenly reversed themselves and said climate change is a hoax when they wanted to run for higher office. This opened up the pocketbooks of big businesses to contribute to their campaign.
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”— Upton Sinclair
The Fact is, Facts Don't Seem to Matter
So the war on facts rages on. Today despite indisputable proof to the contrary, millions of people still choose to still believe that:
- We found Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.
- Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks.
- President Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya.
- "Trickle down economics" stimulate the economy and create jobs.
- Social Security is broke (even though it actually has a $2.5 trillion surplus).
- President Obama won his presidential elections (by a combined 15.3 million votes) due to voter fraud.
- Obamacare hurts the economy and drives up our debt (while the CBO indicates just the opposite is true).
The list could go on and on.
Be Skeptical, Not Gullible
In the age of the internet, there are endless web sites and other sources that masquerade as news and they provide compelling information that seems very persuasive. Many people gravitate to the source of information that reinforces their beliefs without fact-checking anything.
Every day false information spreads through social media which many people believe without questioning.
It is up to us to become more skeptical about everything we read and hear. Don’t get your information just from those sources you agree with. Learn how to fact-check and then double check the fact checkers.
And finally, don’t take my word for anything. I’m just a shmuck on the internet. Research everything you can and then form your own opinion.