The Relationship between Fact and Print

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!   (Isaiah 5:20)

A few weeks ago in February a case was brought before the Supreme Court concerning a man who publicly claimed to be US Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, when in fact he hadn’t received such an honor.  There is a law that says making such claims is a crime, and that law was challenged in court.  The case as discussed before the Supreme Court seemed to have the Justices leaning in the direction of upholding the law – if false claims are ignored, it devalues such medals and military heroism.   But in the discussion of the case it became clear that far less certain is whether the Court could tolerate laws that make it illegal for politicians to tell lies, say for example during a campaign.  Here the discussion seemed to lean in the direction of “buyer beware.”   The thought so it seems to me is that in the public market place politicians have complete free speech rights which includes certain forms of lying about themselves or about their opponents.  It is up to the populace or fact checking agencies to police the politician’s claims or comments and to verify or vilify them.  Congress, according to the 1st Amendment, shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.  Lying is a form of freedom of speech, and apparently is to be protected.  Freedom like free will has such alogical implications.

So the poor voters are left with coming up with their own remedies to protect themselves from cynicism when politicians speak especially during campaigns.  Ohio, my home state, was currently bombarded by campaign ads for the Republican candidates in the recent primary.  Apparently though complete disclosure about how much is spent on campaign ads does not have to be disclosed.  So it is estimated that Mitt Romney alone spent $12 million on campaign ads in Ohio.  Radio stations found this to be a very enriching time.   Freedom of speech is profitable for some.  I’m proud to note that I never heard even one of these ads – I don’t normally attune to commercial radio or television so I was spared this invasive, toxic species of advertising.  My attitude toward campaign advertising is the same as certain candidates  toward OPEC countries: let them drown in their oil.  I also have the same expectation regarding the actual effect of my boycotting commercial radio will have on campaign spending as the the notion that America can produce enough oil to cut off our dependency on foreign oil: virtually none.   Americans as insatiable consumers are as addicted to foreign oil as they are to negative campaign ads.  No president is going to be able to cause such a production in US oil as to eliminate the need for foreign oil.  Promising some low dollar-per-gallon gasoline price tag is  a guarantee no president has the power to fulfill, especially not one who believes in a free market.  But I digress.

What I really wanted to mention is a most fascinating  piece I heard on National Public Radio.  The piece by Travis Larchuk is called “‘Lifespan’: What are the Limits of Literary License?”     The story is about an article author John D’Agata wrote about a teen suicide in which he took an incredible number of “embellishments” to make a basically true story more dramatic.  He argued that he was not a journalist reporting a story and so could use literary license to alter the story.     D’Agata’s original manuscript was 15 pages, but fact checker Jim Fingal needed 100 pages to record the many factual inaccuracies in D’Agata’s  article.    The article was published and caused a literary stir due to its many inaccuracies.     D’Agata and Fingal then collaborated  to write a book, The Lifespan of a Fact, to describe the story of that original article and to talk about the nature of fact and truth.  I don’t want have to issue a spoiler alert, so I will encourage you to either read the piece or listen to it: “‘Lifespan’: What are the Limits of Literary License?” .   In the end as Larchuk discovers even a book written as a history investigating the literary license may not be what it appears.

And just for the sake of keeping the story straight, the printed version of the story doesn’t have all the details/facts that the audio version does.