The News Herald, Panama City
Published: Monday, August 4, 2014 at 10:45 AM.
A recent email had us thinking of Mark Twain, John Adams and Stephen Colbert.
Let’s start with Twain who wrote: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
That’s the right sentiment to describe the email which claims that Col. Oliver North warned then Senator Al Gore about Osama Bin Laden during congressional testimony in 1987. The hoax spread like wildfire after the Sept. 11 attacks. It was so popular that North debunked it himself by pointing out (among other things) that he was not questioned by Gore and that the terrorist he spoke about was Abu Nidal, not Osama Bin Laden.
An anonymous email forward is one thing but these “facts” get embarrassing when people post the things they know for sure on social networks. More than one person has had to apologize to their Facebook friends for sharing “facts” that weren’t facts.
Bush holding a book upside down might be funny but it’s fake.
I’m Tired,” speech that is incorrectly attributed to Bill Cosby. Cosby may be tired but he never made any of the statements in that email.
The Cosby email, for many, had too much “truthiness” to ignore and for a time we often saw it in our inboxes and Facebook pages. Late Night comics Stephen Colbert invented truthiness. It describes those things we want to believe (mainly because they support our point of view) even when they are false. If it sounds good, if our gut says it is right but it just is not true, then it is truthiness.
Colbert’s wit was aimed, as it usually is, at politicians who do their best to polish and spin truthiness into votes on Election Day. There will surely be mountains of truthiness as the election draws near and we hope voters will do their homework when they are confronted by claims that sound too good to be false.
When people and politicians allow the facts to get rubbery it’s damaging to the entire political process. We can’t have honest disagreements using dishonest facts. “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence,” Adams said as he defended British soldiers in Boston in 1770.
And while facts may be stubborn they can be slow to appear when we really need them even, it seems, on the internet where fact and fiction live side by side and are only a click away.
Twain, as he often did, nailed down the heart of the problem. “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”