“Post-Truth” Politics and Journalism

Last week I twittered this super-rad article by Garance Frank-Ruta about journalists’ new responsibilities to correct electioneering lies.

Today James Fallows caught up with this piece and contextualized it with other promising events he puts into David Roberts’ rubric of “post-truth politics.”

Roberts piece is pretty anti-Republican. In that he argues Republicans invented “post-truth” politics. Just FYI, GOP readers.

But it’s a compelling phrase. Not just because it plays on the “post-everything” trend in contemporary public discourse.

I’m post-post, obviously.

Here’s what the term means to Roberts:

They’ve realized that policy is policy and politics is politics and they can push for the former while waging the latter battle on its own terms. The two have become entirely unmoored.

So it’s not that they “moved right” on some policy spectrum when Obama took office. They just adopted a new political strategy, namely total, unremitting, hysterical oppositionalism. Mitch McConnell accurately foresaw that it was the only thing that could revive the battered party after 2008, and it has paid off richly. Conservatives are becoming less reticent about voicing their real agenda, but the agenda itself never changed.

Jon Stewart thinks that Democrats are post-truth, too. With their ad intimating that Bain, under Romney, was responsible for letting a laid-off guy’s wife die. But I gotta say, that’s different from repeatedly asserting a flaming pants lie, that Obama is ending the work requirement of welfare. A lie that happens to be enormously persuasive among conservatives who are accustomed to a politics of resentment directed at them.

Roberts goes on:

But the crucial fact of post-truth politics is that there are no more referees. There are only players. … Obama can back centrist policies all day, but there is no mechanism to convey that centrism to the broad voting public. There is no judge settling disputes or awarding points. His strategy — achieve political advantage through policy concessions — has failed.

So some journalists, including Fallows and Frank-Ruta, are advocating a stronger role for the press.

A press with teeth. Old school. Notebook, dirty trenchcoat, fifth of whiskey, telling us who’s lying and what they’re getting out of it. Some high contrast lighting, maybe reporting done at night in an alley with a single streetlight.

A news corps that bites the “post” out of “post-truth.”

This requires re-jiggering “objectivity” till it means telling the whole truth: what a politician says, why he says it, and whether or not it’s a lie. Rather than just repeating what the candidates say.

Frank-Ruta suggests that responsible news orgs keep pre-written boilerplate that reporters can easily insert whenever necessary.


Involving an Obama quote from today: “They want to turn Medicare into a voucher program….And because the voucher wouldn’t keep up with costs, the plan offered by Governor Romney’s running mate, Congressman Ryan, would force seniors to pay an extra $6,400 a year, and I assume they don’t have it.”

Use of a quote like this could be followed by a graf such as: “The voucher system Obama is campaigning against was proposed by Ryan in his 2011 budget, but Ryan’s 2012 budget dropped the plan in favor of a proposal to subsidize private or traditional plans on new Medicare exchanges created a decade from now. The extra costs potentially imposed by the 2012 proposal on future seniors are not yet clear, though it is anticipated to raise them.”

Obama shouldn’t be campaigning against an outdated Ryan proposal. And Romney shouldn’t be “playing the welfare card.”

Who’s responsible to our electorate to communicate the whole truth about the election?

Now, if only we could get those journalists some decent-paying jobs.

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2 thoughts on ““Post-Truth” Politics and Journalism

  1. cindyokeeffe says:

    So remind me, how come you’re not pursuing a writing career?


    Sent from my iPhone

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hah! Political journalists are hard core. I like my couch too much.

      My writing career is a long game, baby.

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