rumor and speculation can look like alternative facts

EVERY TROLL IS RIGHTWINGED, or least seems to be. Every fake news site and every blog passing on alternative facts also seems to be far right of center. Of course, this is based on my experience on the freewheeling worldwide web of fact and fiction, opinion and assessment, rumor and speculation, and everything else a human can do with words, images, and symbols.

Salon published a rumor that can be seen as an ‘alternative fact’ and used as evidence that lefty sites lie as often as rightwingnut sites.

The freedom of the Internet has given us millions of blogs for bloggers to express opinion or research facts. It has also given us websites with “reporters” who have never taken a single class in Journalism, and with no editors at all.

The lack of a strong editorial hand on personal blogs is understandable, but the same lack on well-established, “name” websites is inexcusable!

As an example—and to show that I do see these things when they happen on sites that are not rightwinged—I offer “Behind Trump’s bogus investigation of voter fraud lies the GOP’s long crusade to keep people of color from voting” by Heather Digby Parton for Salon (January 27, 2017). Here are the opening two paragraphs:

“Rumor has it that even though he seemed to be reacting in response to questions from the press this week, Donald Trump has wanted to launch his ‘voter fraud’ investigation ever since he realized he lost the popular vote by a huge margin—and people inside the administration were desperately trying to talk him out of it. I have no way of knowing whether this is true, but Trump has made it clear since the election that he believes there was massive fraud in November.

For the record, there’s no evidence that systematic voter fraud exists. None. Nonetheless, Trump repeatedly made the claim the election was ‘rigged’ during the campaign, eventually saying that he would accept the election results—if he won. He even lied about that. He won, but he still won’t accept the results.”

Forget most of the words in those two sentences. All that matters is this phrase: “I have no way of knowing whether this is true.” Why include this at all if you don’t know it’s so?

 That said, rumor and speculation are not the same as alternative facts but should nonetheless be avoided by all but a blogger with no sense of shame.


Rumor and Speculation: photo of Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer made several comments during the televised inauguration that were obviously incorrect. He could have simply apologized for his errors, and perhaps blamed them on excessive enthusiasm. This would have immediately ended the entire affair. Instead, he defended them and opened up what could be an endless public relations nightmare for himself.

Rumor and speculation

Rumor and speculation, gossip and innuendo, and misinformation and disinformation are the raison d’etre of the rightwingnut blogosphere, not of the liberal blogosphere. And I am not referring to Ms Parton’s entire article, just that opening statement. The rest of her piece is fact-based with ample links to credible sources. 1

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Salon does, in fact, have an editorial staff or, at the very least, a fact-checking staff. Assuming that, then there has to be someone at Salon who could have or should have looked at those two paragraphs and thought, “Uh-oh.” A few deft changes could have given Ms Parton’s article a stronger beginning.


Why begin a fact-based article with a rumor? It casts doubt on the credibility of everything that follows!


Here are those two opening paragraphs rewritten by my editor here at Neal Umphred Dot Com; the same message comes through, but without any he-said/she-said ambiguity or reference to unverifiable rumors: 2

“Donald Trump has made it clear since the election that he believes there was massive fraud in November. For the record, there’s no evidence that systematic voter fraud exists. None. Nonetheless, Trump repeatedly made the claim the election was ‘rigged’ during the campaign, eventually saying that he would accept the election results—if he won. He even lied about that. He won, but he still won’t accept the results.”

See how easy that was? Drop a few words and substitute “he” for “Donald Trump” and there is no need to use the word “rumor” and undermine an otherwise accurate, fact-filled article. There is no need to use an adverb like “desperately” that appears to shade the article.

And there is no need for the reporter to confess ignorance—and apparent bias.

 

Rumor and Speculation: photo of Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President.

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway compounded Spicer’s dilemma by referring to his errors as ‘alternative facts,’ a term that almost everyone outside the rightwinged world sees and hears as synonymous with ‘lies.’ In the days since entering the Idiom Hall of Fame for her coinage, she has blamed the media for her and Spicer’s (and, of course, Trump’s) ongoing credibility problems.

Uttering a provable falsehood

The term alternative fact has been all over the media since it was first coined by Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway—as it should be. Here is a reasonably fair and balanced account of its origin and first use:

Alternative facts is a phrase used by Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway during a Meet The Press interview [on January 22, 2017], in which she defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer‘s false statements about the attendance at Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States.

When pressed during the interview with Chuck Todd to explain why Spicer [would] ‘utter a provable falsehood,’ Conway said, ‘Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and Sean Spicer gave alternative facts to that.’ Todd responded by saying, ‘Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods.’ ” (Wikipedia) 3

Press Secretary Sean Spicer could have simply apologized for his errors, and perhaps blamed them on excessive enthusiasm or zeal. This would have immediately ended the entire affair. Instead, he defended them with several statistics that were themselves misinterpreted or misused. Mr Spicer opened himself up what could be an endless public relations nightmare for himself.


Rumor and Speculation: cover of the fake book THE LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK OF ALTERNATE FACTS.

It didn’t take long for artist Tim O’Brien to make this satire of Kellyanne Conway’s remark that “Sean Spicer gave alternative facts.” He made this mock-up of The Little Golden Book Of Alternate Facts, based on the bargain-priced children’s books of yore. Note that the artist substituted “alternate” (which means “every other”) for “alternative” (which means “of one or more things available as another possibility”).

The political chasm is sooo wide

While printing a rumor is not the same as printing an “alternative fact” (or, as we used to call them, lies), it’s easy to see rightwingnut bloggers and pundits conflating the two and accusing this one article in particular and the entire (all but non-existent) “liberal media” of doing the same thing that rightwingnuts do every day.

So, to be very clear: I am not saying that Salon posted an alternative fact. I am saying that Salon published a rumor that others can either misconstrue as an alternative fact, or can falsely use as evidence that “librulls” lie as often as rightwingnuts.


It’s deplorable that the chasm has grown so wide that those on the right side can or will no longer criticize outlandish behavior by their own spokespersons.


The funniest part is that anyone who calls Conway or Spicer on their use of the term alternative facts will be considered to be making a political statement with a liberal bias, when in fact what they are doing is more akin to calling for a correction of grammar, or criticizing the corruption of social and personal discourse with an ambiguous new idiom. (Or Orwellianly, some new Newspeak.)

What is deplorable is that the chasm has grown sooo wide that those on the right side can or will no longer criticize such outlandish—and, in the long run, self-defeating if not self-destructive—behavior by their own spokespersons.

 

Rumor and Speculation: photo of Hans von Spakovsky and donald Trump.

FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was lifted from the Salon article “Behind Trump’s bogus investigation of voter fraud.” The man on the left is Hans von Spakovsky; on the right is President Trump. The image was darkened to make the white print of the title more readable. (Photo credit: Heritage Foundation / Reuters / Lucas Jackson / Getty / hermosawave.) 4



FOOTNOTES:

1   Is there a “liberal or leftwing blogosphere”? The word blogosphere means blogs that “exist together as a connected community or as a collection of connected communities or as a social networking service” (Wikipedia). If the important words are “together” and “connected” (as so many of the rightwinged sites are), then the answer may be “No.”

2   Said editor works the same hours for the same compensation as this site’s sole author/reporter.

 The phrase alternative facts has been described as Orwellian by many observers in the media and on the Internet, causing sales of the book Nineteen Eighty-Four to skyrocket by an amazing 9,500% and become the #1 best seller on Amazon.com.

4   Hans von Spakovsky spent time in the Bush administration’s Department of Justice’s voting section, “where he worked to undermine the Voting Rights Act and played fast and loose with ethical rules, as amply documented in a piece by Dahlia Lithwick.” (Behind Trump’s Bogus Investigation)


 

Rumor and Speculation: photo cartoon of Sean Spicer giving alternative facts about the crash of the Hindenburg airship.

Mr Spicer will no doubt be the butt of endless jokes and cartoons concerning any and all sorts of ‘alternative facts’ in the media and on the Internet. This photomontage cartoon is courtesy of Pin Head.


 
 
 

2 thoughts on “rumor and speculation can look like alternative facts

  1. Neal,

    I read the following letter in the comments/opinion section of our local newspaper several days ago. At the time, I thought that it was well written and well reasoned—not always the case when our local ‘public’ submits an opinion to be read by the rest of the masses. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the signature:

    “A recent letter in The Oregonian compares a politician’s claim to tell ‘alternative facts’ to the inventions of science fiction. The comparison won’t work. We fiction writers make up stuff. Some of it clearly impossible, some of it realistic, but none of it real—all invented, imagined—and we call it fiction because it isn’t fact. We may call some of it ‘alternative history’ or ‘an alternate universe,’ but make absolutely no pretense that our fictions are alternative facts.

    Facts aren’t all that easy to come by. Honest scientists and journalists, among others, spend a lot of time trying to make sure of them. The test of a fact is that it simply is so—it has no ‘alternative.’ The sun rises in the east. To pretend the sun can rise in the west is a fiction, to claim that it does so as fact (or alternative fact) is a lie.

    A lie is a non-fact deliberately told as fact. Lies are told in order to reassure oneself, or to fool, or scare, or manipulate others. Santa Claus is a fiction. He’s harmless. Lies are seldom completely harmless, and often very dangerous. In most times, most places, by most people, liars are considered contemptible.”

    Ursula K. Le Guin, Northwest Portland

    1. The few Rep*blicans I have been able to maintain cordial relationships with are baffled by our responses to Trump & Co. They think ‘alternative facts’ perfectly sensible, they don’t think that Spicer or Conway lie at all (they ‘misspeak’), they think the media is making mountains out of molehills, etc.

      I have been comparing their worldview with those of the inhabitants of Bizarro World in Superman comics.

      And it’s only just begun …

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