02 Jul Separate Realities
“We reject the certified results of the 2020 Presidential election, and we hold that acting President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was not legitimately elected by the people of the United States.” – Texas Republican Party, June 12, 2022
“The war on democracy instigated by [former president Trump] and his political party allies on January 6 was the natural and foreseeable culmination of the war for America. It was the final fateful day for the execution of a well-developed plan by the former president to overturn the 2020 presidential election at any cost, so that he could cling to power that the American People had decided to confer upon his successor, the next president of the United States instead. Knowing full well that he had lost the 2020 presidential election, the former president and his allies and supporters falsely claimed and proclaimed to the nation that he had won the election, and then he and they set about to overturn the election that he and they knew the former president had lost.” – J. Michael Luttig, June 16, 2022
“What is reality?” – The Lonely Realist
In its August 2021 commentary, TLR wrote about the legacy of Walter Cronkite, the CBS Evening News anchor who earned the title “the most trusted man in America.” He and other media leaders during the late 20th Century’s Golden Age of News policed the activities of governments, businesses, and industries. They provided Americans with the information that reinforced a common understanding of reality, distinguishing truth from rumor and deciphering fact from fantasy. They weren’t in the entertainment business. They weren’t seeking elective office. They didn’t allow their personal beliefs to affect the quality or reporting of news … because they appreciated the significance of their role in American society. It was their integrity and commitment to accurate and balanced reporting – and the public’s trust in that commitment – that established “fact” by exalting the genuine over the false.
That’s not true of news reporting today. “News” is now a flexible concept. Truth-in-media died with Cronkite and was replaced by truthiness, “the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination or facts.” There are several reasons for the erosion of media (and electoral) honesty. One is that until 1987, the Federal Communications Commission required broadcasters to present controversial issues in a manner that fairly reflected differing viewpoints – the Fairness Doctrine. A second is due to technological progress – because the internet provides easy, costless access to all relevant information, newsrooms have incentives to cherry-pick facts. The role of reporters today accordingly is to focus on ratings, which are best achieved by entertaining existing consumer preferences and prejudices rather than providing contentious facts or in-depth analyses – in other words, by serving as echo chambers for tribally-opinionated viewers.
Bill Maher in 2015 introduced a satirical version of truthiness in a segment entitled “I Don’t Know it for a Fact, I Just Know it’s True.” His comedic routines highlighted how easy it is to ignore fact when asserting a plausible opinion based on photos or rumors or fantasies. Assertion of a plausible opinion is especially potent when founded on fear, a device frequently employed by a bevy of influencers and politicians …, with foreseeable outcomes as illustrated by the recent mass shooting in Buffalo, NY, where a white supremacist killed 10 black Americans. Truthiness not only can subvert. It can kill.
Although the 21st Century rise of truthiness began in the 1980s with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, many point to the collapse in trust after Bill Clinton in 1998 asserted that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” Before that out-and-out lie denial, Americans had an abiding faith in America’s elected officials and American institutions. The outlandish denial of Truth by the then-President redefined reality and reset America’s understanding of Presidential character. In doing so, it undermined a foundational belief in American government …, and in America itself.
Without a media crutch, how can Americans now separate “fact” from “falsity,” the truth from lies? It is precisely that question that has been framed by the ongoing Democrat vs. Republican debate conflict concerning the 2020 Presidential election, the subsequent counting by Congress of electoral college votes, and the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Is the Texas Republican Party fantasizing by supporting former President Trump’s “stop the steal” campaign that denies the results of the 2020 Presidential election and of his role in the resulting violence … or are those who have testified before the January 6th House Committee lying about former President Trump’s efforts to illegitimately hold on to power? Which is it? One or the other most certainly is wrong. One or the other is purposefully lying to misleading the American public. Who to believe?
Among the statements made at the Texas Republican Convention was that “the Democratic Party is now a party of chaos…. The misery, the crime, the drug abuse, the high gas prices are all by design.” This indictment accuses the Democratic Party and its elected officials of being innately evil (rather than mistaken or misguided), their intention being to destroy America and Americans. If so, then the evidence presented during the January 6 House Committee hearings must be false – perjured or purchased –, using deceit to manipulate an array of Republican collaborators (who have included former Attorney General Bill Barr, former acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen, Greg Jacob (general counsel to former Vice President Mike Pence), Bill Stepien (former Trump Campaign manager), and Ivanka Trump) in support of Democrats’ malevolent plan …, a conclusion apparently reached by the 55% of Republicans who said they believe that the January 6 violence was led by left-wing Democratic Party protesters and not Trump-supporting extremists. According to an earlier 2021 Reuters/Ipsos poll, 60% of Republicans believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by the Democrats and that the January 6 hearings therefore are Democratic Party theater. If so, then the Federal and State judges who dismissed the ~63 cases brought on behalf of the Trump Campaign challenging the election result also acted wrongfully (to-date, election audits conducted in Republican-controlled States by Republican Party-appointed auditors have found no evidence of voter fraud that would change the election result).
Every American who focuses on the disparate realities presented by the Texas Republican Party and the January 6 House Committee regarding the 2020 election and January 6 events brings his/her own preconceptions as to fault and responsibility. The facts nevertheless are readily accessible. Unfortunately, unlike during The Golden Age of News, there is no trustworthy interpreter of those facts, no credible referee to distinguish Truth from truthiness. Those who rely on their tribal news bubbles are buying into self-selected propaganda, their own version of reality. After all, there is no need for Truth in an information bubble. News bubble commentators are in it for ratings. They are not in the business of providing their audiences with difficult-to-digest reality …, especially a reality that might annoy viewers. Each American therefore has no alternative but to sort out the facts for him/herself.
To do so is a process that necessarily first must focus on sourcing and accumulating the facts, ignoring potential outcome issues (including whether, if the House Committee allegations are valid, President Trump should or should not face criminal prosecution). Political expediency and legal niceties should be put aside. It also isn’t pertinent whether President Trump’s enablers – Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, John Eastman (who along with Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Mo Brooks (R-AL), and Scott Perry (R-PA) fruitlessly requested pardons from President Trump), etc. – should face criminal charges. This is a reality exercise that should be simple and straightforward. Which facts are real and which are fake? Just the facts, ma’am.
 A summary of the Texas Republican Party’s 2022 platform can be found here.
 John Michael Luttig is a former Circuit Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia. His full statement to the January 6 House Committee can be found here.
 Truthiness is a term coined by Stephen Colbert and was previously discussed here.
An index of TLR titles can be found here.
Finally (from a good friend)