AltFacts: Prove It!

Your friends at Motif are never sure whether this is a satire column, a humor column or a horror column. We do know we love being able to make up things whenever we want, without fact checking or verifying anything (just kidding – we do fact check. We also make stuff up, but that’s for purposes of humor. We hope you can tell the difference. The president, for example, is not actually an orangutan, although we regularly refer to him as such, and he is orange.) But cultivating our AltFacts certainly gives us an appreciation for how much fun the current administration must have just plain making up whatever they want. Provide examples, you say? Well, okay — since you asked nicely.

Citizen journalists are a double-edged modern phenomenon – they’ve raised the bar significantly over the old school limitations in terms of access and immediacy. Somebody with a camera will almost always be right there as stuff is going down. For example, police equipped with cameras on their bodies won’t even bother to forget to turn them on pretty soon, because they’ll be sure somebody involved has a lens on whatever is happening. But the door opened by our ever-growing reliance on citizen journalists also creates a lack of context, often a lack of accountability. Events aren’t analyzed – and increasingly, they aren’t trusted.

That’s leading us to a group think in which nothing is trusted. Trump can claim he never said, “You can grab them by the pussy,” or had that conversation, even though it’s still available for you to watch and listen to. Even though he addressed it in the past and dismissed it as unimportant locker room talk. WTF? It never happened. Say it often enough, and some people will start to believe it no matter what it is – insidious statesmen have been practicing that tactic for as long as we’ve had politics. But when nothing’s believable, we’re free to believe whatever our hearts tell us. Unfortunately, almost all of us are at least a little bit crazy. Maybe you’re not. I’m sure you’re not. But your fellow humans – the guy or girl sitting next to you right now (don’t look up!!) – they almost certainly are at least kinda nuts. Abandoning logic, facts, evidence and inconvenient constructs like the scientific method leaves us all adrift, at the whims of our own craziest underlying beliefs.

Far right organization Project Veritas (ah, the irony) seems to have sent an operative — Jaime Phillips — to The Washington Post to spill the beans on a made-up story about long-ago sexual misconduct on the part of senate candidate Roy Moore. You’ve probably seen this in other news outlets – if not, Google it, because AltFacts doesn’t have the column inches to retell the story. But the bottom line is, an organization literally tried to cuckoo egg some fake news into another outlet so it could later be uncovered as fake and thereby make suspect all the other, probably non-fake accusations. If this approach works for the right, why shouldn’t it also work for the left? Shouldn’t opponents all use these tactics to even out the playing field?

The real victim here isn’t the accuser, it isn’t the politician or the newspaper or a reporter. It isn’t even The Truth. The real victim is the stretchiness of each of our credibility gauges. We can suspend disbelief for fiction. We are now being trained to suspend it for reality. And if we do that, then reality can be anything. It can be a tax bill that will “benefit all Americans,” while simultaneously benefiting only a tiny percentage of our wealthiest. It can be a pussy grabbing that never happened when it did, or everyone knows happened when it never did.

Kudos to The Washington Post reporters (Stephanie McCrummen and others) for not running to the carrot dangled in front of them in this sting operation. Hopefully more professionals will attempt to put truth before glory. Citizen journalists can fill their role as uncovering agents – but some trusted voices need to fill the role of filtering and staying in touch with the truth, before it drifts beyond anyone’s grasp.

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