No, I’m afraid that politicians have learned that we’re not that careful about remembering what we’ve heard, and that, by undermining anyone who keeps track, they can simply rewrite history to meet their own ends.
It’s been almost masterful: by constantly questioning the media that used to be the anchor of people’s understanding of issues, certain politicians and media outlets have created a world where it’s hard to know what’s true, and where you can discount someone else’s opinion by merely calling them out as fake.
Maybe those who have developed and delivered that strategy cottoned on to the idea that, in a relatively comfortable democracy where close to half the population can’t even be bothered to vote, few people are paying close enough attention to catch outright liars.
I understand, to a point.
Everything’s become such a sideshow carnival, it’s hard to keep track. Today’s bizarre claim about the right is overtaken with the latest bizarre claim about the right. Stories on the Internet can change without so much as a hint that sections have been added or eliminated. Who do you trust, even if you’re paying attention? I’m in the news business full-time, and I don’t always know what’s true and what’s hype.
Checks and balances exist when there’s some kind of continuity — and there isn’t continuity right now. There’s unending plethora of sources and updates, and there’s the weakening, cash-strapped traditional media itself.
There are clear dangers here, and not just to journalists’ jobs. (By the way, I don’t know what my particular business has done to engender such hatred. I am astounded by the number of times a week someone writes to tell me they can’t wait until I’m out of a job.)
But if we reach a point where anything true can be discounted, and anything false can be announced as true, where do we go to ensure that we’re making the best decisions on everything from voting to retirement savings to whether our school system is working?
The fact is that more simply is not better, just because of the crushing weight of it.
By 11 a.m. Monday, I had been deluged by information on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to Washington: everything from the plane being late, the plane being de-iced, the airport where the plane was landing being changed, right down to a necktie choice made by a Trudeau staffer and the fact that a ceiling panel had come loose on the plane during a bumpy landing. There were snaps of Canada geese in a field, of travelling in the motorcade, of a beer truck. Heck, there was even video of Trudeau getting off the plane and waving — why? And to who? Do I need to know any of that, and how much of my head is now crammed with useless data?
Plenty of chaff, not much wheat. And I don’t blame anyone for getting lost in that, or getting lost in any of the other conflicting stories.
I agree: we’re part of the problem, delivering too much that doesn’t matter, but at the same time, if you listen to a politician and think they’re stretching the truth, remember that you have tools like never before to go back in time and see what was actually said. The only thing you have to do is to have the civic energy to bother. The tools that we all have at our fingertips are startlingly powerful.
Sometimes, I forget a face. But you know what? I never forget someone who lies to me.
Nor should you.
Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @Wangersky.