Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“Words and Phrases – Fake or Twisted?”
July 9, 2018
“But no one was interested in the facts. They preferred the invention,
Because this invention expressed their hates and fears so perfectly.”
Notes of a Native Son, 1955
“The media are less a window on reality, than a stage on which
officials and journalists perform self-scripted, self-serving fictions.”
The Vision of the Anointed: Self Congratulations as a Basis for Social Policy
As the two rubrics show, the concept of“fake” or“twisted” news is not new. The media has long been used for purposes of disinformation, propaganda and deceit. Aesop’s fable of the boy who cried wolf tells a story of deception gone wrong. The Federalist Paperswas written to persuade the undecided to support the Constitution. Lenin argued that capitalists bought up newspapers to control what was printed. Hitler employed Joseph Goebbels as his minister for propaganda. Using words to coax and prod others is the province of politicians, columnists, bloggers and essayists, including yours truly. What is distressing today is that editorializing has seeped into the news room, so that news is comingled with opinions. That does not mean we should be a nation of cynics, but skepticism is healthy. For whom or for what is the writer or speaker an advocate?
One example: The front-page, top right-hand column of the July 2, 2018 New York Timeswas headlined, “Curbs on Unions Likely to Starve Activist Groups.” The article by Noam Scheiber, in reference to Janus v. AFSCME, read: “The Supreme Court decision striking down mandatory union fees forgovernment workers was not only a blow to unions…” Why did Mr. Scheiber use the word “for”? The fees are not forworkers; they are paid byworkers. They are for union leaders, certainly not for workers who disagree as to how money is spent. The editors of The New York Timeare scrupulous in words they choose; the use of “for” had to have been deliberate. One subtle example of editorializing on the front page.
Another example is the hue and cry over abortion, in regard to the replacement of Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Reality tells us that the prospect of overturning Roe v. Wade is remote. It was handed down forty-five years ago. It is embedded in law and social norms. Besides, conservatives’ respect precedent. Nevertheless, the law should not be confused with culture. Culture comprises the milieu. Law defines the boundaries. Law is – or should be – created through legislative bodies, affirmed by courts and executed by the Executive. Culture is a construct of religion, tradition, values and learning. It responds to whimsical winds of change. Yet, whenever a Republican President nominates a candidate for the nation’s highest Court, the cry goes forth – Republicans want to ban abortions. We are provided the specter of returning to back-alley doctors, dirty operating rooms and metal coat hangers.
Reactions by the Left to the prospect of a “conservative” Court have been eviscerating. They include the twisting of history and the substituting of fear for facts. Thirty-one years ago (before the “borking” of Robert Bork), Justice Kennedy was subjected to the same accusations when he was nominated by President Reagan. In 1986, Antonin Scalia demurred when asked by Senator Ted Kennedy if he would vote to overturn Roe: “I do not think it would be proper for me to answer that question.” Justice Scalia lamented the Roe decision, not because of its finding, but because the decision was based on a few Justices imposing their cultural values and not a result of a vote by state legislators. Could a nominee to the Court today be as forthcoming as Justice Scalia? No candidate for the Court should be asked to opine about cases that may or may not come before them. Such questions, in a vacuum, cannot be answered sincerely. Have we so politicized the process that straight-forward honesty is no longer possible? Should not wisdom and equanimity, along with knowledge of and respect for the Constitution – its declarations, amendments, precedents and limits – be the characteristics we should want in a Supreme Court Justice?
“Diversity” is a word whose definition focuses on what is politically correct – race, religion and sexual orientation – and ignores ideas that are deemed unacceptable. Consider a recentNew York Timesarticle about the reaction of summer residents in Martha’s Vineyard – an exclusive enclave of the liberal rich – to Alan Dershowitz, former professor at Harvard Law School. Because his defense of the Constitution has meant, at times, defending President Trump, he has become persona non grata on, “an island that prides itself on civility and diversity,” to quote the Times. The irony embedded in that sentence appeared lost to the reporter. For there was nothing civil about the treatment of Mr. Dershowitz, when his conditioned support for Mr. Trump did not conform to what was considered socially acceptable. When they are accused of being neither fair nor civil, nobody hates with the intensity and venality of the Left.
“Equality” has lost its meaning. Are we speaking of opportunities or results? We are not equal and never can be. Is it fair that I am not equal to my neighbor in terms of wealth? Was it fair that when I was in high school the tall, blond football player ended up with the best-looking girls? We possess different abilities and bear different aspirations. We are individuals. We have different tolerances for risk. We will never be equal in aptitude, education or wealth. But we are, and we should be, equal as citizens under the law. Each individual should have equal opportunities to succeed? We should each strive to do our best and take responsibility for our deeds and words. We should acknowledge and celebrate our differences, not lament what cannot be. We should be civil and respectful of others, not use inequality as a political sledgehammer.
“Victimization” is a word whose meaning has become diluted by overuse. It is used by universities to countenance “safe (segregated) places,” and by politicians to justify compartmentalizing (segregating) voters into easily accessible units.
Ironically, it has been Donald Trump, often portrayed as linguistically-challenged, who has proved to be a master of words. He intentionally enflames his antagonists. He knows what he is doing when he exasperates “Never Trumpers,” “Trump Haters” and “Resisters.” His opponents, like Maxine Waters, snap at the bait. They sound and react like extremists. They suggest he is a Nazi or a fascist. They call for impeachment and even his assassination. If he were a true threat to democracy, such actions might be excusable. But, the consequences of his actions – not his words – have been to limit the reach of government, not expand it, through cuts in regulations and reductions in taxes. It is the Left that desires a more powerful executive, an enervated Congress and a compliant Judiciary. It was they who politicized the IRS and the FBI.
It is too much to ask in this age of social media, but it would be nice if we could receive our news from unbiased sources – with facts laid out, without opinion or nuance – allowing the reader or viewer to develop his or her own opinion. But we can’t, or we won’t. So, we must endure the Twittering, blogging, biased reporting, and late-night TV comedians and hosts. To counter this wealth of propaganda, we must therefore read as widely as possible, to become as informed as we can and to then make decisions that suit our own, educated interpretation of events.