Fact Check Election 2012: What The Newsroom Can Teach Us About Truth and Politics

The HBO show The Newsroom came up with a simple, yet novel, idea for the debates between presidential candidates. When candidates speak, they are on the witness stand. If they lie or provide false information, they will be perjuring themselves. The character Will McAvoy said something to the effect of, “We put MLB players in front of a House Committee to testify about steroids. Why shouldn’t we at least do the same for people who are asking for the power to run our nation?”


The answer is we should. Yes, we absolutely should. It is seemingly amazing that we don't do so already.  If a candidate wants to lie about something, we should punish him/her in the same way you would a person who has committed a crime such as embezzlement. It seems almost silly that this doesn’t already occur.

There are several reasons why, and they are more tied together than we realize. Our society exudes a culture of not telling the whole story, of living with minuscule accountability. 

And it starts young. Our kids are taught a very jaded and linear view of American history in our schools. There are dozens of examples. They learn all about how Christopher Columbus was first to “find” America, but the history of the Native Americans before Columbus is audaciously ignored. They are taught that Al-Qaeda is a threat to our way of life, but we don’t mention the KKK, a terrorist group that operates right here in America.

Americans claim to hate Communism and have gone to war to stop its spread. Yet, the U.S. treasury allows China, an openly Communist nation, to buy its assets when our economy is in trouble. Meanwhile, government officials would have a fit if I wanted to light up a Cuban cigar. Go figure.

But beyond our limited knowledge of our own history, the internet — a fascinating tool for accessing and exchanging information — has pushed the envelope into unchartered Beast-Mode territory.

Those of us (myself included) who grew up with the internet probably cannot remember life without it. I honestly cannot remember going to the library to physically and manually look up a piece of information. It would take too much time: traveling to the library, looking up where the relevant section is, making sure the book is there and not on loan, finding the part of the book I'm looking for, making sure that I am satisfied with what I find, and then traveling back home.

I can pull out my iPhone, Google whatever I am looking for, and find the information in less time than it took me to write this sentence.

We are so used to getting everything now-now-now that often we do not even check to see what we want is given to us accurately. Facebook and Twitter allow news to be reported on instantaneously.

All of this contributes to the problem. If every fact that every politician spoke about had to be checked before it was reported, we would have to create an entire agency just to manage the daily intake of facts. But because we are so conditioned to getting things quickly, we often settle for speed as opposed to quality. When a politician overtly says something that is untrue, most of us just roll our eyes, shake our heads, and forget about it.

But I can promise you that someone somewhere consumes that bit of information, does not know that it is false, and moves forward believing it to be true.

And that is all it takes. One person to confirm the statement as truth. Because it is human nature to hold on to what we know for dear life, even if the contrary fact is as clear as the sun. The rest of us did nothing to stop the politician from saying something untrue; that omission can be worse than saying the falsity in the first place.  

My point is that we live in a very hypocritical, numbing culture. If we are to demand change from our politicians (and we should), we must realize that they can get in front of a crowd and spew whatever they please to gain approval because we allow them to. We allow ourselves to be desensitized to fallacies at every corner, because it is easier to accept them than to search for the truth.

But that is exactly why we must. The truth is always worth it, which is why it is harder to find.

Just think back to when you discovered that Santa Claus was not real—one of the great truths revealed to all of us in our youths.

Once we found out the truth, we immediately starting thinking about how we could please (manipulate) Mom and Dad into getting us what we wanted, instead of trying to appeal to an overweight, mysterious bearded man who demands cookies when he delivers gifts. We never knew how exactly to act in order for Santa to deliver that must-have toy. But we sure as hell knew how to please Mom and Dad.