Last month the Chicago Tribune printed a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the death of facts. It was written in obituary style and chronicled the decline and ultimate demise of, well, factual statements.
The norm now is to state your opinion and present it as fact, according to Tribune writer Rex Huppke.
Huppke says so many of us of all stripes misrepresent facts to make a point that it is best to acknowledge the obvious – facts are now irrelevant. Why not declare them dead?
If you need proof with a Great Lakes angle consider the following.
Even the most casual observer of the Asian carp saga should have been prompted to question the veracity of this headline courtesy of Fox News Detroit:
“Stop Asian Carp Act Aims to Protect Great Lakes”
The headline is similar to an announcement on the website of Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow that says: “Bipartisan Bill to Stop Asian Carp Introduced.”
The problem is that the release and the Fox News headline essentially say that Congress, by passing a law, can stop the advance of Asian carp. That’s not true.
Here’s the reality.
The bill’s title is actually the “Stop Invasive Species Act” and its stated purpose is to “compel” the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite its study of hydrological separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River watershed. Asian carp are barely mentioned in the bill’s language.
It’s a bill about a study that’s already in process.
Even if passed it won’t stop Asian carp. Carp are knocking at the door now. Any action resulting from passage of this bill is years, maybe a decade away. Plus, passage of the the bill is doubtful anyway.
So why the big splash with a misleading headline?
It’s an election year and politicians need to demonstrate what they are doing. Michigan residents want to hear about stopping carp not a bill that expedites a study. That’s a yawner that won’t garner votes. People want action not studies.
The tactic works.
The media – we can be part of the problem – picked up the headline as written while the leading Great Lakes environmental coalition referred to it as “combatting the spread of Asian carp.” Even environmentalists have contributed to the death of facts. Stabenow’s bill doesn’t “combat” Asian carp. Again, it’s a bill about a study.
Why not play loose with the facts if that’s where your ethical compass points? It works. Many people don’t see beyond the headline.
But here’s a thought. What if we were just honest?
President Barack Obama provides an example of how that can work as chronicled by David Plouffe in his book
After Obama’s election to the senate and rise in national prominence, the buzz started about a potential presidential run. When asked about a candidacy by a prominent TV reporter, Obama dismissed the possibility. Fast-forward a few years and he’s now on the cusp of announcing that he’s going to run for president and he will soon sit for an interview with the same reporter.
Anticipating the question about the change of position, staff was trying to develop an answer. To put it bluntly, staff was trying to craft a spin answer but Obama objected.
He suggests telling the interviewer that the answer he gave years ago was accurate but the situation has changed. In other words, the truth.
The truth, how refreshing.
Why couldn’t Stabenow and her backers and the enviros just tell the truth about the bill to expedite the study – that it’s important for the separation study to be expedited but it’s unlikely to have an impact on Asian carp.
It can however protect the lakes from future aquatic invaders and will help take the Chicago Waterways System from the 19th to the 21st century. It’s purpose is to improve the ecology and the economy of the region.
Most people would understand and even welcome not only the candor but the proposed outcome.
I suspect nothing will change as a result of the Tribune’s death of facts narrative. Staying on message, whether the content is true or not, is valued more than the facts – be you a politician or environmentalist.
But it doesn’t have to be that way as candidate Obama demonstrated.
“Why don’t I just tell the truth” he told his staff.
He did and it worked for him.
The truth can work for the Great Lakes too, but spin won’t.