"Truth is Stranger than Fiction." Or is it?
Truth and facts are not relative. They are absolute. Opinions may be subjective, but the truth isn’t.
Truth and facts are not relative. They are absolute. Opinions may be subjective, but the truth isn’t. When a tree falls in the forest, we don’t argue about whether it fell. We can argue about whether anyone hears it, but the fact of its falling is not disputed. Although the right to a free press is guaranteed to the American people, we are beginning to realize today that the right to truth does not appear to be guaranteed.
There are numerous instances in the history of the world where investigative journalism has changed the course of human affairs, nearly always for the good. In the United States, the freedom of press has been constitutionally protected since 1791: “Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” It is inconceivable to imagine a world in which Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had not reported on Watergate, a world in which the Boston Globe had not reported on child abuse scandals, or a world where Bill Dedman had not uncovered the redlining in the 1980’s.
On the other hand, there are many examples of state-controlled media being used as extensions of the state to further policies that are not in the best interests of the public. The use of the media as a propaganda tool was probably perfected by Joseph Goebbels in World War II Germany when his control over the media was a signifcant catalyst in Hitler’s rise to power. Regimes in North Korea, and to some extent, China and Russia strictly control the news feeds that emerge from various news outlets. The United States of America has so far been free of these restrictions; however, this equilibrium is currently in danger.
As a nation, we are confronting the spectre of what some have termed fake news. As a child, one learns that there is a difference between ideas one does not like and ideas that are not true. Sometimes stuff that one does not like may be true. In fact, it’s more than likely that stuff we do not like is true. To label everything that one does not like as being untrue is the refuge of the insecure and arrogant, and is the frst step on a path towards an uncontested rule of tyranny and the establishment of a dictatorship. It is a path that we see in some nation states like Russia and North Korea, where journalists critical of the ruling elite often find themselves at the wrong end of the law, or worse. It is inconceivable to think that we are at the start of the process where restrictions on the freedom of the press are debated in the media and serious discussions occur around the pros and cons of such a move. The founding fathers must be turning over in their graves at this vision of a dystopian future...
Unfortunately, the integrity of the truth and the right to the press which Americans have fought so hard for is now being attacked. We now live in our own distinct realities in which public fgures debate the credibility of facts and debunk the media. No longer will an instant Google search immediately solve a question. The advanced technology that once connected and brought society together now invites a web of false rumors and theories around pizzagate. To combat this expansion of editorialization and fallacies in this new day and age, society requires critical thinkers and original minds to determine the truth.
The need to distinguish between false information and the truth is an important goal for students. Hopkins prepares students to develop that ability. Spending hours footnoting an ACII Research Paper in the library or carefully ascribing a quote from The Scarlet Letter now has a tangible relevance to daily life. Understanding how to approach a reading with background context can be a good starting point for determining the validity of a source.
It is necessary to protect the institution of the press. Fake news is not just unagreeable news, just as true news is not just agreeable news. The role of the free press in a democracy is to provide one of the forms of checks and balances as envisaged by our founding fathers when they wrote the constitution. Past crises, such as Watergate and the Iran-Contra Affair, have tailored our vision of free truth in the press and its role in society.
Now it is up to society to strive for the right to truth.