“How many of you have ever been directly involved in a news story – been the subject of the story, a witness or participant in an event that was covered by news media?”
I used to begin a seminar with that question. Most days, almost everyone in the room would raise a hand. Then, I’d ask them if the news media got the story right – did they get all the details correct – did they have their facts straight?
How would you answer those questions? It’s likely you have been a witness to, participant in or subject of a news story at some point in your life. Maybe you’ve been quoted in the newspaper. Maybe you witnessed a car crash or a store robbery. Perhaps you were part of an organization that made headlines. How accurate would you say the media coverage was? If you’re like most people at my seminars, you would probably say the media story was not an accurate reflection of what you believe – based on your first-hand knowledge – actually happened.
“So, why would you believe that all the other stories in the same media – those you don’t have first-hand knowledge of – are any more accurate?”
“Facts” are rarely facts
A fact is a statement that is incontrovertibly, demonstrably accurate. There are precious few of these in life. There are none in politics.
A case in point: I was on a radio roundtable discussion this morning when I said exactly this. A friend and fellow panelist disagreed, and used an example to prove his point, claiming Donald Trump had lied when he said, “in San Bernardino, many people saw the bombs all over the apartment of the two people that killed 14 and wounded many, many people.” That wasn’t true, argued my friend.
How did he know this wasn’t true? Because, it was a “well-documented fact” it wasn’t true. Well-documented by the news media. The same news media everyone agrees gets facts wrong regularly. What is a fact (to me, because I’ve seen it first-hand) is that many (even most) news media have reported there was no foreknowledge. That lends credence to the conclusion no one knew about it. I believe that’s a reasonable conclusion. But it’s still a conclusion, not a fact.
If you were one of the attackers’ friends, you could know with certainty that you had no foreknowledge. That could be a fact, for you. But you could never know with certainty that no one else knew this. It’s unknowable. And, unknowable things cannot be facts.
Sorry, there’s no Truth either
There is no such thing as absolute truth. “Truth” is merely a subjective interpretation of perceived facts, conclusions, assumptions and faith.
– Towhey’s Law of Truth
We can, all of us, look at the same set of data and find different truths. Your truth may include a God. Mine does not. Your truth will be informed by information only you know are factual. I cannot always know the facts you know. My truth, inevitably, will be different than yours. Neither of us is objectively right or wrong.
A great deal of what we perceive to be truth is based on our unique assessment of the credibility of the source of our information. If you have confidence in the source, you are more likely to believe its relaying of information as factual. If you don’t share that confidence, then the same information from the same source, will be perceived as suspect. And, millions of Americans do not trust the news media, nor what it claims are facts.
So, time and resources spent on “fact checking” are largely useless in terms of growing support. For a “fact check” to be convincing, the audience must share a common set of facts with the fact-checker. If they, do, they likely already trust you. You can reinforce commitment by reassuring those who’ve already chosen to agree with you, that they made the right choice. But, it’s all but impossible to convince anyone who doesn’t share your fact set to buy your argument.
Ultimately, voters choose the candidate they trust most to make future decisions in a way they’ll be comfortable with. This is why political candidates work hard to build a relationship with voters – so they are perceived as credible, trustworthy and, ultimately, trusted. Because we all interpret facts differently, this trust is easier to earn subjectively – by projecting your character as something voters can have faith in – than it is by arguing with facts alone. Character is assessed by softer variables – tone of voice, word choice, body language, facial expressions, stated priorities, etc. Facts are less important than you may want to think they are. Because facts are not always facts.