#221 – Dick Bernard: Flogging the "Truth"

Yesterday’s news brought three bits that seem very much related and pertinent. Then, today, came a John Stewart piece that is an appropriate summary.
1. A St. Paul man, Koua Fong Lee, was released from jail halfway through an eight year sentence for criminal vehicular homicide. The judge said he was entitled to a new trial, and the County attorney said they wouldn’t be asking for a new trial. In other words, he was innocent of the charges for which he was jailed. In our system, the injustice of four years in jail is now called justice. The entire story is in today’s papers. The Minneapolis paper front page headline says “A FREE MAN“. If Mr. Lee is lucky, most people will believe that he got a raw deal in being sentenced in the first place; if he’s unlucky, some will say he got away with murder.
2. Last night a news clip featured Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, U.S. Senate Minority leader, talking in politician-speak. What he was saying, without saying it directly, was that “compromise” is not in the vocabulary of today’s right-wing politicians. “Just say No” is what passes for bargaining…and it has worked, if the only definition of success is making sure there is as little progress as possible towards a moderate centrist country, and in the process re-taking control. McConnell was lying, in a politically acceptable way.
3. Yesterday afternoon came an e-mail commentary from a friend, speaking about another piece of recent national news, and commenting in effect on both of the above: “If people – millions and millions of people – still think that Obama is not even a US citizen, then any other facts are really beside the point to them. how do we navigate in a political waterway where facts are void? I have not figured this out.
But I am very much understanding now what the head of LaPrensa told me in Managua, Nicaragua, when I visited there during the Contra war of the mid-80s. La Prensa was their newspaper and one of [then-President Ronald] Reagan’s big beefs with Nicaragua was censorship of the press. So, we asked the editor of the newspaper if he censored the press. He said yes. We asked why. And he said something like this, “Here’s what we censor. There are people who create images of the Virgin Mary crying, and they say that she’s crying because the Sandinistas are in power. We say we’re not going to print that because it’s not true. They say we are censoring.” I really get that now – does free press mean we have to continue to let “news” stations like Fox report falsely – tell true lies? Is/Should lying really be protected as “free speech”?

My friend makes an important point.
In #1, above, Koua Fong Lee was let down, apparently, by a less than effective attorney, and in addition didn’t have the benefit of knowing that other vehicles similar to his would later have similar spontaneous acceleration problems, causing a tragedy 2006.
In #2, Sen. McConnell was politically lying with a straight face…his lie wouldn’t even be considered a lie in today’s America. It would be talked about in different kinds of words, like “spin”. But its intent is no different than any bald lie told by a kid to mislead or deceive.
Between the politician and the public stands (supposedly) the media, who we have come to trust to convey accurate information.
That trust has been more and more violated – witness the Breitbart-Sherrod video fiasco recently (the intentionally false editing of a video to make it appear the speaker, Sherrod, was saying something essentially opposite to what she was saying).
One is taking a big risk believing anything at face value from any medium.
We can choose to be trusting and naive when it comes to picking our source of news. It is dangerous to ourselves and our society.
Post-script, pre-publish: as I completed the above draft, in came another e-mail with this 10 minute segment from John Stewart’s Daily Show about Congress’ failure to act to pass a bill to give medical care aid to 9-11 First Responders. In the end, in my opinion, Stewart is talking not as much about Congress itself, as he is about we who are manipulated by sound-bites and political ads.
Caveat Emptor.