By Michael Karath — By accusing CNN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and other major outlets of disseminating “fake news,” the media has doubled down on its reporting and fact-checking. The new president has awoken the media from its slumber. They are energized. This is a very good thing. Remember when the press laid down like lambs during the run-up to the Iraq War? President George W. Bush questioned the media’s patriotism. Today, Trump is questioning its legitimacy.
You know what else is good about Trump’s “War On The Media?” Circulation is rising at many newspapers. People are reading more. They are paying attention. The president’s spokesperson Kellyanne Conway unwittingly coined the phrase “alternative facts” that I predict will haunt the Trump administration to its last day. Trump is trying to delegitimize the press and set himself up as the only fount of truth in the country. So when the facts don’t jibe with his narrative, he has alternative facts ready that show what an amazing, fantastic job he is doing. In his first press conference as president, while chaos reigned at airports from his ill-advised travel ban, and in-fighting and leaking reigned among his inner circle while some lied about discussing compromising, sensitive issues with a Russian ambassador, Trump assured Americans that his administration was functioning like a “fine-tuned machine.”
This all raises a fundamental question: Who can we trust to tell us the truth? Well, it all leads back to a quote popularized by Thomas Jefferson: “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” That means it’s up to us in Sonoma and Americans across the nation to apply some thought and elbow grease to becoming more discerning readers and consumers of political information. With the Internet at our fingertips, we have no excuse.
Recently, for example, congressional republicans have been holding town halls across the country, discussing their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. On February 11, 2017, Bill Akins, a Republican Party executive for Pasco County, Florida, took the mic and said to a roomful of angry residents: “There is a provision in (Obamacare) that anyone over the age of 74 has to go before what is effectively a death panel.” He was heartily booed and shouted down. Ironically, this lie, or alternative fact, had been used effectively by Republicans in 2009 to shout down congressional Democrats holding town halls to explain Obamacare. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, declared at one of his town hall forums that bureaucrat-staffed Obamacare death panels would “pull the plug on grandma.”
So what are the facts?
A few clicks on the Internet showed that Sarah Palin coined the phrase “death panels” in one of her Facebook posts. Another click brought me to her Facebook page and her actual post, in which she wrote: “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.” Another click showed that Palin pointed to Section 1233 of the original Obamacare bill, claiming it required seniors to appear before ethics panels to justify receiving medical care or effectively be put to death by denial of care. A few clicks later, I found Section 1233. I read it. Section 1233 said nothing of the sort. It provided for voluntary “advance care planning consultation.” That meant, for the first time, Medicare would pay for a patient’s doctor appointment to discuss living wills and other end-of-life issues. As for Akin’s claim that, under a new provision of Obamacare, people over 74 years of age had to face death panels, I traced that back to a quote by an unnamed doctor at Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee. The Center’s spokesperson called the doctor’s claim false. You want another source? The AARP also called the death panel claims false.
I know what you’re thinking, Who has the time to track down this information from source documents and unbiased sources when there are so many issues? You do. I do. We need to make time. Maybe not for all the issues, but certainly those that resonate with us. The amount of time we invest debunking alternative facts results in more precise language and knowledge, resulting in a stronger democracy. By educating ourselves and interacting with others, we create a ripple effect in our community and outward to counteract the stream of lies pouring out of Trump and his Republican apologists and enablers.
Writer Isaac Asimov once observed: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
In fact, the ignorance of Trump and those who support him is not as good as our knowledge, if we work to acquire it.