Short Take: Facts v. Truth

Josie Duffy Rice’s twit got 197 hearts and 73 retwits. By any empirical measure, she won.

In response, Josie twitted: “you’re making things mutually exclusive that aren’t.” That’s kinda true, but not really. There will be times, circumstances, when the two overlap, but that doesn’t change the job.

What this comes down to can be characterized as honest journalism versus advocacy journalism. The former was once fashionable, but the latter has captured the media by empowering journalists to vent their feelings where once they were constrained by facts. Denying facts, distorting them to convey the message in which they believe, has become a perfectly legitimate way of reporting the news.

The difference, however, can be characterized differently.

Facts are objective.

Truth is subjective.

Each of us finds our own truth in the facts, based on how we interpret them and whether we want to go where the facts lead or lead the facts to where we want to go. But if we can no longer trust journalists to give us facts, and instead accept their truth in its place, then there is no hope of deciding for ourselves what our truth is, what we believe to be true.

Speaking truth to power is an alluring phrase. Can we trust the sensibilities of journalists enough that we will let them tell us what our truth should be? Can we trust anyone that much? Would we ever want to? No.

22 comments on “Short Take: Facts v. Truth

  1. John Barleycorn

    One of these days you might stumble upon the Genesis of Twitter.

    This will be good for a few laughs which is enough. But who knows, it might even be “enlightening” enough to make folks ponder what pencils must feel like now? Now that it is certain the cassette tape is never coming back.

    Then again you just might start a crumdgen-ish fatwa otherwise known as a FacUth, which could be fun but ultimately will just benefit the military industrial complex, foundation make up manufactures, and few otherwise unemployable think tank toddlers.

    1. SHG Post author

      Twitter is the great leveler, allowing anyone, rich or poor, smart or stupid, sane or batshit crazy, to twit at anyone else on twitter. And it tests the recipient of their kindly-intended twit to respond or ignore, as they deem best.

      1. John Barleycorn

        No shit?! Must be true if 70 college professors from my roledex think so (and mind you there were women and men in that sampling and they were even of different ranks and from different universities).

        But now that you mention it, just imagine what sort of crazy leveling tool will be at my finger tips once I figure out a way to trade some of my old ties for the coding of my roledex-twit-polling app.

  2. MJB

    “Facts are objective. Truth is subjective.” This is also kinda true but not really. Objective truth must be two things; of what is and infallible. Although we fall into the fallable category and can only come to a subjective understanding of truth, that doesn’t stop it from existing outside of our full understanding. But I much appropriate and agree with your main point. For an advocacy journalist to think they posess absolute truth and must use it against the man is both ignorant and arrogant, which unfortunately are two traits not in short supply today.

          1. Billy Bob

            Would not tell that to too many people, if I were You. Be that as it may, we enjoyed that clip immensely. (We can hardly stop watching!) Where did you find it? You are a magician.
            We’ve been there as well, more than once. And some of our “friends” and “associates”. Ha. Especially coming out of “court”,… Where were we?
            Finally, “unemployable think tank toddlers,” … that takes the prize!

  3. B. McLeod

    Journalism as it was once known is gone. Today’s “journalists” see their job as telling people what to think and turning the “outrage” machine on any non-conformists. They don’t even consult the facts, because they don’t care about the facts. What passes for “news” now is what used to be on the “editorial” pages. Except that it is less informed.

    1. SHG Post author

      My friends who are journalists told me that the problem was they felt obliged to include an opposing view/statement, even when they knew if was false or manipulative so as to be “balanced.” The alternative became editorializing by selectively providing and characterizing, “facts” (which may be factual or may be an editorialized version of a fact), which led inexorably to the “right” conclusion, because that was the conclusion they believed to be correct.

      When I suggest there is a middle ground between knowingly conveying claims that are substantively false and presenting fictionalize facts to convey their belief as if it was fact, they didn’t invite me for dinner anymore.

      1. B. McLeod

        That really doesn’t explain journalists making crap up from whole cloth in the first instance. At this moment, a manufactured controversy is flaring around the Internet concerning the alleged “whitewashing” of the character of Maj. Motoko Kusanagi in the new “Ghost in the Shell” movie. This, because Scarlett Johansson, rather than a performer of Asian appearance, was cast in the role. The basic problem with this is that the Anime character Motoko Kusanagi has never been depicted with Asian features or appearance in the series on which the movie is based. Her cyborg body has always been depicted with Western coloration and features. When you have a cyborg body, it can look like anything. It doesn’t have to be conformed to the ethnic appearance some people stereotypically associate with having a Japanese name. So, the “whitewashing” controversy has been generated by people so ignorant they have no idea that there has been no conversion of an Asian-appearing character here to begin with. But, that is not stopping their strident protests over the failure to cast an “Asian” performer in the role. Somebody is being racist here, I’ll give them that, but the media is reporting the opposite of fact as to where the racism lies.

  4. Jim Tyre

    Josie Duffy Rice’s twit got 197 hearts and 73 retwits. By any empirical measure, she won.

    She’s a Harvard Law School grad who eats ice cream for breakfast. What on earth made you think you could compete with that?

  5. wilbur

    So, you were reduced to playing The Fact Card on her, eh? The last refuge of a scoundrel …

  6. Charles H Green

    “Facts are objective; truth is subjective.”

    I know what you mean, but…

    A lawyer friend of mine, specialist in mediation, taught me that, “In American law, there is no such thing as ‘the truth’ – there is only evidence.”

    What he was describing is the difference between the law and other professions (e.g. accounting). He was also describing the difference between the US legal system (where the lawyer’s highest ethical standard is to serve your client, as opposed to the UK, where the lawyer’s ethical standard is to serve justice).

    I present it, ironically, not as a the truth, but as a perspective. But perhaps, just perhaps, it’s the former.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s neither truth nor perspective in the context of this post. It’s insipid. I wouldn’t blame your lawyer friend, who merely stated the obvious, but that you thought you knew what I meant. You apparently didn’t.

  7. Nagita Karunaratne

    Seemingly factual articles can seem opinion-free but in the tone and vocabulary used they seem one-sided. For example in a recent Washington Post article – ‘Trump lashed out’ rather than ‘Trump responded’.

    For me, most news is biased and lensed by the proclivities of whoever happens to be the writer. I hope I am not being cynical but practical when I think the solution is to to get a wide cross-section of ‘opinion’ and make up your own mind.

    I believe most people are like me and don’t believe 100% everything they read or hear, particularly in this
    technological environment.

    1. SHG Post author

      When you restate the idea of a post, there’s really no need to offer an example to show what was already shown before you got here. As for getting a “wide cross-section,” it’s meaningless unless you have facts upon which to base an opinion. Without facts, you can’t have a valid opinion no matter how many other factless “opinions” you read.

  8. Morgan O.

    Understanding the difference between truth and fact comes from thinking. Thinking is hard. Therefore understanding the difference is hard.

    Oops. There I go again, using old dead white guy philosophy, thus doing violence to people whose lived experiences trump thousands of years of effort to build useful paradigms.

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