Governor Joseph P. Teasdale once looked me in the eye and said he would never lie to me. “But there are times I won’t tell you the truth.” Teasdale was referring to “truthiness” about 25 years before satirist Stephen Colbert launched his television show, The Colbert Report. Colbert coined a phrase at the last minute before shooting the pilot episode for his show.
“Truthiness” became the word of the year in 2005. Comedian Stephen Colbert coined the phrase to describe something that a person considers true because it “feels right” regardless of any proof that the information is, in fact, factual. Colbert says, “We’re talking about something that seems like…the truth we want to exist.”
He later told the satirical newspaper The Onion, “Truthiness is tearing apart our country…It used to be (that) everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.”
Colbert’s “truthiness” phrase easily comes to mind during political campaigns. It pops up on our radar screen today because our friend Steve Kraske, the ace political reporter for the Kansas City Star and one of the analysts we feature each week on our Campaign Watch segment, told me that he had run into Congressman Emanuel Cleaver at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, where Cleaver is to speak tonight. Cleaver told him his speech had to be fact-checked by the Obama campaign folks who are conscious of the questions of accuracy about several things Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan said in his speech last week in Tampa.
USA Today turned to FactCheck.org to analyze speeches at last night’s convention and some of the competing claims made at the Republican convention.
For instance, keynoter Julian Castro claimed the Obama administration has created 4.5 million “new jobs.” The analysis by USA Today notes the nation has lost 4.3 million jobs since Obama took office in January 2009 but had regained four million of them.
Castro told teh audience Romney/Ryan would “gut” the Pell Grants for lower-income college students. What Romney/Ryan have said is that they would limit the growth of the program and freeze the maximum grant of $5,550.
The same analysts examined speeches at the Republican National Convention–for instance, Clint Eastwood’s remark that 23-milion Americans are out of work. The actual figure in July was 12.8-million.
The fact-checking cuts both ways. But it comes back to Joe Teasdale’s statement that he would not lie but there are times he wouldn’t tell the truth.
Here are some sources you can check to see how much “Truthiness” is being thrown around:
- Factcheck.org is an arm of he Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. There also is a second and perhaps more entertaining site run by Annenberg called “Flackcheck.” And there’s a third site called FactcheckED which is a file of issues the center has investigated.
- Politifact has a truth meter and blesses the most egregious violations of the truth as “Pants on Fire” untrue, as in “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire.”
- You might want to check the Washington Post’s Factchecker, or the fact checking categories on the national network web pages. Some local newspapers also run fact checks on local races.
Here’s the truth, folks. We think it will stand up to any explorations by any of the checkers mentioned above.
Convention speeches, campaign speeches, and campaign advertising are focused on selling a product. It’s just like the ads and commercials we see for cars, detergents, hygiene, enhancement, fast food restaurants, gasoline with special additives, and toothpaste products—you name it. Even ads for lawyers. The object is to get you to buy something. Or not buy something. Or sue someone you bought it from. You are being told only the good side for the product being sold or only the bad side for the product being disparaged.
Political campaigns are the same regardless of the level at which they are played out. Whether it’s a presidential race, a senatorial race, or even a race for your city council representative, they’re selling you a product. One side says it’s grass-fed but doesn’t mention it’s been loaded up with MSG in the processing plant. The other side says it’s low-fat but doesn’t tell you that means it has only half the fat it had yesterday and yesterday it was 70 percent fat. The sellers hope you don’t read the label very closely. Just buy the product because it looks so nice in its packaging.
We are surrounded by truthiness. Sometimes we feel like General Custer surrounded by Indians. And you know what happened to him after he let his troops against an Indiana village without knowing how many Indians they were or where they were. .
What is often overlooked about Custer, however, is that half of his men under Frederick Benteen, a former Missouri Civil War officer, survived. They were on another hill. They were fortified.
Custer died a fool who dived into battle without knowing the facts. The other half of his cavalry unit survived because it fortified itself