My new “Think Again” column is called “The Media and Climate Science: ADHD or Deliberate Deception?” It deals with the Murdoch empire, PBS in particular and you’ll find it here.
On the origns of Post-Truthism, continued
The term keeps getting more and more traction so here is the Chuck Colson example, and my adaptation of the term, from When Presidents Lie (Viking, 2004 Penguin, 2005):
Dishonesty has become so pervasive a part of our public discourse that in some cases, the very same people who pose as defenders of absolute truth feel no compunction about relying on deception to do so. Take the case of ex-Watergate felon Charles Colson, who, following a prison conversion, founded a national prison ministry, authored thirty-eight books—selling over five million copies—along with daily radio commentaries and a regular column in Christianity Today, the nation’s most important evangelical magazine. In the winter of 2002, Colson discussed the case of the popular historian Steven Ambrose, who had been accused of plagiarizing portions of his work. Colson’s column condemned what he termed America’s “post-truth society” in which “even the man on the street sees little wrong with lying.” How ironic, therefore, that although the column appeared beneath Colson’s byline and alongside his photo, the words he claimed as his own were actually the work of one Anne Morse, one of two full-time writers Colson employs,along with various “contract” writers, to churn out his column.
Colson’s own lack of self-awareness notwithstanding, he makes a valid point. When people talk about lies in American society today, they tend to do so—at least in public—with a degree of naiveté that becomes its own sort of dishonesty. As Louis Menand has observed, “The dissembler is always part of universe of dissemblers.” And though many of us may hide this awareness even from ourselves, “all adult interactions take for granted a certain degree of insincerity and indirection. There is always a literal meaning, which no one takes completely seriously, and an implied meaning, which is what we respon to even when we pretend to be responding to the literal meaning, [and] a great deal of literature (also a great deal of situation comedy) is built around imaginary cases in which one character misreads another character’s code, or in which someone suffers by insisting on making explicit what the rest of the world knows is better left concealed by euphemism or denial.”
CONCLUSION: GEORGE W. BUSH AND THE POST-TRUTH PRESIDENCY
The virtue of truth in the American presidency had, for all practical purposes, become entirely operational. Whether its citizens were aware of it or not, the presidency now operated in a “post-truth” political environment. American presidents could no longer depend on the press—its powers and responsibilities enshrined in the First Amendment—to keep them honest. And the resulting death, destruction and general chaos that seemed ready to explode on a daily basis in Iraq following the US invasion seemed to be just one price that “reality” was demanding in return.