Alternative truth
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - November 9, 2018 - 12:00am

Asked by a reporter about his attitude towards truth, US President Donald Trump replied: When I can, I tell the truth.

Such rare outburst of honesty almost made me fall off my easy chair. What exactly can we make out of it? Here is the full quote:

“Well, I try. I do try ... and I always want to tell the truth. When I can, I tell the truth. And sometimes it turns out to be where something happens that’s different or there’s a change, but I always like to be truthful.”

 Well hooray for the president of the United States for good intentions. He has however, set a worldwide trend for alternative truth. That’s the term coined by Kelleyanne Conway, a loyal Trump assistant.

That was a shocker for those of us who looked at truth as uncompromisingly true. It is black or it is white. It is the truth or it is a lie or untruth.

Alternative truth seems to bring truth into the realm of mere opinion. We can have diametrically opposed opinions, but there can only be one truth.

Journalists have always struggled with this issue of truth vs untruth. Because we are supposed to be unbiased observers, fairness demands that we give all contending parties equal time.

That’s how the “he said, she said” type of reporting came about. Sometimes there is no choice when issues are so murky, developing fast and no time to fact check. There are times when journalists must make judgment calls.

There is also this admonition to journalists I caught on Twitter: “If someone says it’s raining, and another says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the window and find out which is true.”

Sounds simple, but it isn’t that clearly defined in many situations. So mainstream media now go the extra mile by formalizing what is now called a Fact Checker. Falsehoods flourish because they remain unchallenged. It is the job of Fact Checkers to keep track of things and ferret out the truth.

For instance, the Washington Post Fact Checker found out Trump said more than 5,000 false or misleading claims in his first 601 days in office – a rate of more than eight a day. But even more importantly, the Fact Checker points out that Trump repeats falsehoods dozens of times – even after facts refute that claim.

If this sounds familiar, it is because it is the same thing here. We also have a President who just says anything that pops into his head. It is the job of his spokesmen to clean up his mess afterwards.

Unlike Duterte, Trump is focused on his objectives when he lies or says something outrageous. He is speaking to his crowd. He doesn’t care about the other half of America. He is focused on his crowd and keeping them all fired up.

With our Great Leader, he just wants to fire up his audience for the moment by talking to them as if they were in a roadside beer garden. That’s why he curses with no thought or fear of eternity.

Often enough he says something that even his spokesmen can’t figure. He endorsed a singer way past his prime who is running for the Senate. Sal Panelo, not a stranger to outrageous statements, thought it was best to deny the President endorsed the singer.

When confronted with tapes and transcripts showing the President did endorse the singer, Panelo’s reaction can be summed up as “eh basta…”

Our President is just amusing or so says the Davao journalists who have covered him for years. It is his followers in social media who play fast and furious with facts and feed outright falsehoods for the President’s blind followers to lap up.

Trump is more intentional. He uses words, truth, lies and whatever else suits him to strengthen his hold on his base. Mr Trump is in love with himself and his ego must be constantly fed by adoring fans.

Nothing is sacred for Mr Trump. Issues, institutions are tools to help him get his daily fix of adoration. The trade war is not about creating more jobs in America as it is a schoolyard challenge to China, his designated bully.

As for the military, he is does not want them to forget that he, a draft dodger, is now their commander in chief. He wants them to give him a grand parade. He deployed troops on the border with Mexico just because he can. It doesn’t matter if legally, soldiers can do nothing there even if the migrants climb up the wall.

People must now have the skepticism of a journalist to understand what is going on. Here, as in the US, the descendants of Goebbels are busy sculpting minds with sophisticated tools to include algorithms, surveys and social media. Cambridge Analytica, the Russian hackers and the DDS trolls come to mind.  

Ordinary consumers of news do not always have the perspective needed to really understand what is being reported. Trust of institutions is at record low, an expected reaction in an era of alternative truths.

Here, it is horrible that promoting the concept of Federalism had been reduced to a jingle with obscene gestures. There is so much to discuss about Federalism but even an innocent question is seen as disloyalty to the President which some think is disloyalty to the country.

Only the Presidents, Trump and Duterte, can help bring back sanity in the public space but doing that works against their interest in keeping power.

So we are on our own. It is dangerous in the world of alternative truth and our only weapon is adherence to the essence of truth: that there is no alternative truth. It is either true or untrue. Everything else is shameless self interest.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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