You can’t turn around in the U.S. these days without bumping into a cry of “Fake News!” or a news story decrying the same. Not that spin is a modern phenomenon. Throughout human history, propaganda has been a tool employed with mastery by everyone from kings to ad pitchmen to the church. (A lot of parents are good at it, too.)

But the volume and speed of the delivery seems to have reached new levels in the age of social media. The power of the pitch — the false or distorted claim — also seems more potent in this era of disengagement.

The notion of truth has always been a challenging ones for journalists — and especially for deadline journalists who are writing the first draft of history fast and on the fly and by following the deeply rutted roads of craft convention.

Perhaps that’s why this sentence caught my attention. It’s by Jack Holmes, the politics editor at Esquire who, according to his bio, handles “a dash of sports and feature writing” but who writes mostly about All Things Trump — which gives him a lot to write about. This line came in a piece Holmes wrote back in April, on what was, even for the president, an energetic day of spinning. Holmes was writing about Trump’s statement that the noise from windmills causes cancer, along with a bevy of other emphatic toss-offs that should send us scrambling to Google — if we weren’t so numbed to all of this.

But if spin is the constant, then numb is the real danger. Understanding that it happens, how it happens, and why it works is the necessary job of citizens who want to be part of a participatory democracy. Holmes’ sentence didn’t teach me anything new. But it served as a reminder of the reality of human psyche, of the ability to bend the same, and of my responsibility to stay alert.

His first sentence above was followed by another worth nothing. Here they are together:

Truth is …. whatever you can get enough people to believe. The contours of reality can be bent to your needs and desires.

 

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