Last week I wrote a column about “truth indifference,” which has pervaded the public square of late. In the last U.S. elections alone, candidates and pundits on both sides made claims without any regard for fact, let alone nuance.
That very day, Thomas Friedman wrote a column on a classic example of truth indifference: a report that the president’s recent trip to Asia cost $200 million a day. After Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.; no relation) cited the statistic as fact on Anderson Cooper’s CNN show, Cooper did some digging—and found only the flimsiest of sources for the story. Nonetheless, the “fact” had made its way into talk radio and the blogosphere.
Friedman’s column is invaluable (and great) reading all by itself, so I won’t try to summarize further. However, a few sentences in his final paragraph are worth repeating, because they eloquently capture the stakes involved in truth indifference:
When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. It becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues—deficit reduction, health care, taxes, energy/climate—let alone act on them. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together.
The truth can be extremely difficult to ferret out. But only if we agree on the quest for truth—the commitment to stay open-minded, to separate fact from opinion, whatever the results—can we have any basis for dialogue across divides.
Have you run across examples of truth indifference? Feel free to share them here.