The Answer To Alternative Facts? Journalism That Pulls No Punches
On January 22, 2017, United States Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway uttered the phrase “alternative facts” during an NBC’s Meet the Press interview with host, Chuck Todd. Todd rushed Trump’s senior adviser about why the White House on Saturday had sent Spicer to the briefing podium, for his first ever press conference as Press Secretary to the President, to claim that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.”
“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving — Sean Spicer, our press secretary — gave alternative facts,” she said.
Todd responded: “Alternative facts aren’t facts, they are falsehoods.”
For those of us who watched closely, as Spicer dared to confidently bend the narrative and forge an argument of such a trivial matter, it was almost comical. I mean, this was his first press conference. It was even more entertaining to observe all the backlash they received from legacy pundits and common internet trolls alike. There were great memes and journalists all over were mocking Conway as they came up with “alternative facts” of their own. Conway and the Trump team deserved such public shaming after having the audacity to utter such a phrase that demeans the very concept of “fact.”
The definition of fact by Merrian-Webster reads “a piece of information presented as having objective reality.” Google defines it as “a thing that is indisputably the case.” In other words, facts exist in reality. It really should be quite simple.
In this fast-paced, web-based media cycle of 2017, the happenings of January 2017 are ancient history. You could’ve thought this article was centered around Conway’s demeaning comment way back in the day. Rather, this piece provides rationale as to why the term “alternative facts’ which is intrinsically parabolic, was confidently uttered and defended on national television, why the administration continues to spin in this way, and what we should do about it
The fact is (no pun intended) is that we live in a post-fact world. Actually, not quite yet but we are moving in that direction if we the people do nothing to stop it. Here are the two things contributing to this lethal paradigm shift:
1. Social Relativism
2. The Age Of The Spin
First, our society is now prone to operate under, what I call, a sort of social, theory of relativity. Not referring to the Physics theory proposed by Albert Einstein of special relativity, determining that the laws of physics are the same for all non-accelerating observers. My social relativity is often referred to as “Relativism.” Popular terms around Relativism include “cultural relativism, religious relativism, and moral relativism.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states, “Relativism, roughly put, is the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning, and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them.”
This is idea that is widely taken as admirable, almost holy, when it comes to religious, moral, and cultural observing. Yet, we cannot accept it in the world of journalism. Because journalism should be true; Journalism should be factual; Journalism should be the one place we can go when every other medium is spinning, persuading, sometimes lying, seeking to sell us something. True journalism claims to only be selling the truth.
The problem is that during this “age of information’ where there are an infinite numbers of media-outlets (often non-credible), people can find “evidence” for whatever they want to hear. “Fake news,” another term on everyone’s radar since Trumps campaign, is out there. Though, it is deplorable that a president is using such language to discredit legacy journalists, furthering the distrust our generation already holds of the media. However, there is a point and a positive to this. The point; news cycles often are generated based on clickbait. The positive: this opens the door for crowd-sourced journalism to wave its emerging hand.
It is the Age of the Spin, Let’s face it! There are probably hundreds of thousands of happenings in a day that can be spun into an interesting story, yet the cycle consists of 10–20. Stories selected are selected for a reason, a reason often with the bottom line in mind.
Though legacy outlets such as NBC and ABC are on the more credible end of the spectrum, agendas are often driving the tilt; they are in cookie-cutter format leaving out important details, often intentionally. Going forward, as legacy loses its credibility as consumers yearn for variance, and bloggers are seen more as anti-establishment fabricators, the happy medium is fact-based content that pulls no punches.