“Alternative facts” are dangerous lies


Talia Zitner

True or false? 2+2=5. While this sounds completely ridiculous, with the rise of “alternative facts,” the line between fact and fiction begins to blur. Kellyanne Conway (U.S. Counselor to the President) coined the term “alternative facts” on January 22nd, during a Meet the Press interview. Conway was defending the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, and his false statements regarding the attendance of President Trump’s inauguration.

As a journalist, facts are the most important part of any article, whether it be breaking news or a book review. Writing for The Beacon has taught me the importance of fact checking and verifying quotes. If we made up facts to support our articles, everything we published would be a lie.

“Alternative facts” are not facts at all, but a way of twisting information to fit the political agenda of the Trump administration. As conservative radio talk show host,  Charles J. Sykes,  wrote in the New York Times, “All administrations lie, but what we are seeing here is an attack on credibility itself.” Using “alternative facts” is a way of saying the truth is only as one perceives it. What once was considered fact can now be questioned and open to interpretation. This is like saying that there is “alternative math” or that the earth is flat. What “alternative facts” really do is throw people off balance, leaving them confused  by false statistics and an unraveling definition of the truth. By the time another Trump tweet is “debunked,” people have already latched onto it and the damage is done.

This new use of “alternative facts” is leading to scarily increasing talk of “real” and “fact-based” journalism. It’s possible to write and post anything online, passing it off as real. As Paul Horner, creator of a fake-news Facebook empire described to the Washington Post, “Someone posts something I write, then they find out it’s false, then they look like idiots.” Yet with the new emergence of “alternative facts,” anything goes. “Nobody fact-checks anything anymore,” he stated. For a journalist, this is almost the equivalent of a death sentence. If the government won’t use real facts, why should the media be expected to? This angle unfortunately works completely in the favor of President Trump. As the Trump administration continues to attack the “dishonest media,” the alt-right media is empowered, and with it, its audience. As Sykes so pointedly put it, discrediting any independent news sources,“helps insulate him [President Trump] from criticism and it allows him to create his own narratives, metrics and “alternative facts.” “Alternative facts” are an insult to the journalistic community, and the American people. The presidential administration sets the standard for the entire country. As Trump lies, his falsehoods trickle down to the people, until fact checking and verifying becomes so exhausting that it’s easier to just accept what’s been said. As Russian dissident and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov tweeted (the irony), “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.” And that’s a fact.