I was dwelling on the fragility of truth about a week ago, while watching the debate on creationism vs. evolution between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the intellectually shuttered fellow who runs a Kentucky museum dedicated to the notion that The Bible is literally true. A poll conducted a couple of days after the debate indicated that 92 percent of people who watched the event on the Internet believed Nye had won. That poll, by the way, was conducted by Christian Today.
So the debate was a bit more one-sided than even the last Super Bowl. Nevertheless, it was fascinating viewing, with Ham the Biblical coelacanth, living evidence that there are people out there who think the fossil record is a prank by God. And by the way, when Pat Robertson – who believes that hurricanes are caused by gay people – tells you to quit saying crazy stuff, you know you’re off the charts.
Score a big win for the truth. Otherwise, it’s a world of people who think the truth hurts.
Let’s start in that most-obvious portal to fantasy, politics. Politicians are rarely held accountable for distributing misinformation. The Affordable Care Act and its death panels, immigration and anchor babies, rich money-hoarders as job creators, Obama is a Muslim Socialist emperor from Kenya. The leaders who manufactured these long-refuted talking points still have many followers. As does New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a man who’s willing to punish his constituents if a mayor didn’t endorse him, or back a real-estate project that Christie favored. Nor does the truth fare well in Kentucky, where Senator Mitch McConnell is either a liar or has horrible reading comprehension skills. Last week he said the Congressional Budget Office estimates Obamacare will cost the country two million jobs, when it says no such thing.
Here’s one of my recent favorites. Kentucky senator and proven plagiarizer Rand Paul often refers to “studies” to back up his claims, yet rarely names those studies. But last month, while insisting that employers are less likely to hire people who have been unemployed for long periods of time, he did cite one example: A paper written by Rand Ghayad, not yet a high-level economist, just one who’s finishing up his Ph.D. in economics from Northeastern University. Unfortunately for Paul, Ghayad was less than appreciative of the attention. “Just because companies discriminate against the long-term unemployed doesn’t mean long-term benefits are to blame,” Ghayad wrote in rebuttal in The Atlantic magazine. “Paul might know that if he read beyond the first line of my paper’s abstract.”
We know government officials in West Virginia have a problem with the truth because 300,000 people there whose water has been rendered unusable for a month after a massive chemical spill are being told it is now safe to drink. Except those officials are falling far short of making definitive assurances, because the water still has an odd odor to it. “Just because you smell something doesn’t mean it’s not safe,” said Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water. Would you take his word on that?
You can’t. Apparently moonshine stills tucked away in the mountain hollers of West Virginia get more government regulation than the chemical storage tanks rusting on the banks of the state’s beautiful rivers. We know the people who spilled those chemicals downplayed the size of the spill at first, and later admitted it was actually a much larger event. BP did the same thing with the Gulf oil spill. That’s the strategy every time an industry is confronted by an ecological disaster. Lie about how minor the damage is, then work your way up to: Run!
NBC’s Olympics coverage is a lie. Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko was forced to withdraw from the men’s figure-skating competition because of an injury before the start of Thursday’s event. Unwilling to admit that it had lost one of that evening’s marquee figures – NBC’s broadcast of the event is delayed because of the nine-hour difference between Sochi and the U.S. Eastern time zone – the network continued to promote Plushenko’s appearance throughout the day. It even used a quote from the skater, saying he would compete, words taken from an interview recorded days earlier. Using lies to hype a drama that never happened.
Holocaust-level exaggerations can be useful when the evidence is weighing in heavily against you. We heard some rich guys this week dismiss the dangers of income equality by comparing their critics to Nazis. Those critics, incidentally, include the majority of the world’s economists and the Pope.
We heard arguments supported this week by absolutely ludicrous dishonesty. Colorado Republican Sen. Bernie Herpin challenged a gun control measure in his state by suggesting that high-capacity magazines shouldn’t be banned because the guy who shot up a Colorado movie theater in 2012 had one that malfunctioned, preventing more carnage. Speaking of the accused shooter, James Homes, Herpin said it “was maybe a good thing he had a 100-round magazine because it jammed. If he had instead had four, five, six 15-round magazines, no telling how much damage he could have done until a good guy showed up.” Twelve people dead and more than 70 wounded puts the lie to the twisted theory that a reliance on defective weapons will keep us safe.
Enraged that Woody Allen was being honored at the Academy Awards, Dylan Farrow, daughter of Allen’s former longtime companion Mia Farrow, wrote a damning essay reviving old accusations that Allen had molested her when she was 7 years old. Disinterested in weighing both sides on Farrow’s serious accusations of child abuse, Allen’s Hollywood supporters trampled the alleged victim in the rush to defend the comedian and director.
And perhaps most notably this week, there was an announcement by Michael Sam, the star defensive lineman on a very good University of Missouri football team, that he is gay. Reactions were wide ranging, and it’s no surprise that there are a lot of homophobic bigots lurking in the Internet weeds. But most interesting was the reaction of NFL people who insisted that the league “is not ready for a gay player,” and warned that allowing a gay man into a locker room would endanger its “delicate chemistry.”
I’ve been in plenty of locker rooms. Delicate chemistry isn’t quite the right description.
Other NFL authorities questioned why Sam would come out now, right before the NFL draft, and likely ruin his chances of being picked higher. Their suggestion was clear: Lie to your future employer.
Sam made the tough decision. The decision that felt right to him. He wanted to be honest with himself, and those around him. “I want to own my truth,” he said.
The truth, instead of a lie that others are more comfortable with.