Fact checking is a necessity

Published 10:12 am Friday, January 27, 2017

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat…”

That’s what Roy Schneider in “Jaws,” said after a giant shark bit off the stern of his fishing boat. And today, as the Trump presidency gets fully underway, we are gonna need a bigger press.

The press, once named the Fourth Estate by Edmund Burke in 1841, has played a significant role in democracy by encouraging an informed public and providing a counterbalance to what can be self-serving political articulation. But the scale of self-serving political calculation has just taken a Great Leap forward, to borrow a Chinese expression that seems appropriate for the type of leap taken. And, as a result, we need the media to change accordingly.

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When the spokesperson for the president is defended by the administration by arguing for “alternative facts,” as did Kellyanne Conway, and, when Sean Spicer, the new president’s press secretary says, “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts,” we are definitely gonna need a bigger fact checking press.

When the president insists that the attendance at his inauguration was the largest in history, in spite of physical pictorial evidence to the contrary, he is speaking fact free. While that would be troubling in itself, when a spokesperson in his administration rushes to assert the impossible in an angry outburst of self-righteous anger, it raises the Groucho Marx question, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

In this example, we should believe our lying eyes.

When the president’s staff then doubles down and claims it was the largest audience when considering streaming viewers, they shift to an unprovable argument because there is no tracking of that data. Factually, their claim remains as bereft of truth as previously, but their boldfaced assertions are demanded to be recognized as factual or the press is against the administration.

Then, when the president tells Americans that 3-5 million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election, and adds none were for him, we are back to the lying eyes issue once again. There is absolutely zero evidence to support his claim, and strong facts to refute his claim. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, perhaps captured the absurdity most succinctly when he said,

“This is going to erode his ability to govern this country if he does not stop it.”

The Bigger Boat we need now more than ever. We need fact finders in the media challenging this president and his administration daily on whether or not they are acting on fake facts or empirical evidence. When an administration warns you they intend to use “alternative facts,” you should believe them when they say it, and challenge them when they do it.

But even more is needed from the American media. Deep investigative reporting needs to be infused with funding to insure that all the potential conflicts of interests in this administration do not occur nor be successfully hidden. Given that the president promised to release his taxes and now says he will not, there is no reason to expect any degree of transparency from the Trump presidency or cabinet.

Then, too, we need the press to expand its editorial content, for if the administration intends to argue from the position “because we say so,” then the country will need a counterbalance to the potential misdirection of best interests of the American people.

Donald Trump once said he is not a debater, but is a winner. Trump has proven that to be true. Debaters win arguments by facts, winners win by telling people whatever it takes to win.
Maya Angelou wrote: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.