Post-Truth Politics

Sunday, January 19, 2020
First Aired: 
Sunday, September 10, 2017

What Is It

You've probably heard about the dangerous effects of fake news, and the spread of sensational and targeted falsities. But what about "legitimate" news, one might still ask? Well, do you want the "liberal truth" or the "conservative truth"? Just stick to the facts? What if my "facts" differ from yours? Listen to science? Those scientists are all in someone's pocket, you know. Can we know anything anymore in this age of epistemic nihilism? Have we entered the "post-truth" era? What does this mean for politics, policy, and accountability? The Philosophers don't fake it with Christopher Meyers from CSU Bakersfield, editor of Journalism Ethics: A Philosophical Approach.

Listening Notes

Ken is joined by Joshua Landy, who takes the co-host chair in place of John. Josh opens the show with his pessimistic view that misinformation in the world is now more rampant than ever. But isn't misinformation now, asks Ken, just as rampant as it was in ancient Athens or during the Enlightenment? Are there ways to quell the spread of misinformation? Josh and Ken also discuss whether or not philosophers like Richard Rorty should be held responsible for helping promote the current environment we live in.

Josh and Ken are joined by Christopher Meyers, professor of philosophy at CSU Bakersfield and editor of Journalism Ethics: A Philosophical Approach. Christopher offers some historical perspective, explaining that journalism has had these problems since its origin. For example, one could go back to yellow journalism of the 20s, 30s, and 40s when William Randolph Hearst arguably started a war to make newspaper sales. Only since the early 1940s has journalism shed its partisan nature and tried to maintain objective reporting.

In the next segment, Josh, Ken, and Christopher discuss the harmful effects that have resulted from the loss of the Fairness Doctrine, which allowed talk radio to dominate right-wing conversation, and changed the way that journalists think about their craft. What drove people in politics, the FCC, to abandon the doctrine? Christopher answers that it was Reagan’s FCC that dropped it because they thought mainstream media was too left-leaning. In their framing, this would create more freedom in the airwaves that would interfere less with “the free market of ideas.” On the left, what have postmodern philosophers and proponents of identity politics done to bolster this environment, if at all?

And, in any case, what does it mean for journalism to be “fair” in the first place? Can journalism ever "mirror the world”? If we were to fix our current situation, Christopher argues that we should promote patience for the marketplace of ideas to work and look at making reforms to the Constitution, especially the First Amendment. Furthermore, journalists need to commit to public service, politicians need to restore the Fairness Doctrine, consumers need to consume different sources of media, and intellectuals need to double down and take on the banner of truth to resist the nonsense.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (Seek to 6:05): A close look at the history of urban legends and conspiracies.
  • Sixty-Second Philosopher (Seek to 44:49): What is fake news? It seems like nowadays we either believe everything or believe nothing at all.



Comments (5)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, September 14, 2017 -- 11:19 AM

Post-Truth Politics?

The title of this post implies there was some political dispensation, wherein truth was the common currency, if not de-rigeur (spelling?). I'm not sure if this is, uh, true (as my comment on fake news might also suggest). The only thing significant about the current state of affairs is the degree to which truth is being manipulated, mangled and purposefully dismantled by the current chief executive and those in his corner. They are not even surreptitious about it. I would like to believe it is all an aberration and that we shall return to normalcy in a few years (if not weeks or months). It is certainly surreal enough. There is a level of vehemence mixed with complacency which would have seemed impossible before this political season. Paradoxically, those who wanted unparalleled change have gotten that and more. The Sean Spicer interview with Jimmy Kimmel was instructive and a must-see for Trump watchers. Whether or not he decides to try to re-enter the shark tank in some indistinct future.

Dwells's picture


Tuesday, January 14, 2020 -- 10:02 AM

One definition of fake news:

One definition of fake news: the reporting of what was said in the past by speakers/writers who cannot remember what they said. Aforementioned speakers should retire. In the past week there have been two very prominent politicians whose behaviour fits this description. These people have been accused of lying when another term is more accurate. Politics should not be a very long career.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, December 30, 2019 -- 11:46 AM

So here we are---all these

So here we are---all these months later, and fake news is still boiling around our political lexicon. Mr. Trump has done much of what he promised to do. He has fulfilled the wildest dreams of some and the most vivid nightmares of others; played a lot of golf (by most accounts); compromised American foreign policy (by some accounts); and given one hell of a 'shiner'to statesmanship and diplomacy. There is an impeachment 'trial' coming, but, as a practical matter, all that is likely to do is to 'exonerate' him---in the sense that the probability of his being removed from office is zero to none. When the dust settles, he will still be president; his supporters will be affirmed; he will run for re-election (unless unable to do so due to health or some other contingency); and have at worst, a fifty-fifty chance of again winning office. So, what have we learned?. Apparently, not much, other than the sword of impeachment is, at most, a nerf bat. High crimes and misdemeanors is a misleading phrase---virtually meaningless when critically parsed. We think we know what high crimes are; or, at least, we think we SHOULD know: we see people convicted of murder and sent to prison, sometimes to serve life sentences without chance of parole. But what, pray tell, is a high misdemeanor? And what would punishment for such an offense look like?
I submit that we do not know the answers to these questions, nor can we even suggest answers which would fit.the vague description.

Recently, I remarked that an academic friend of some standing, disgusted with recent past and current events, moved to Ecuador. He is the same age as my older brother, with whom he graduated high school. Both men are nearing their eightieth year of life, and I am not that far behind them. One saw the writing on the wall sooner than the other; the academic, perhaps not wanting to abandon a good career; the computer engineer, leaving before his career was even settled. I haven't the resources or the inclination to leave now. But that is my own damned fault.

Anyone can be president of the United States. And that, is too damned bad. There ought to be a better selection committee.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, January 13, 2020 -- 10:53 AM

Just finished a small volume

Just finished a small volume in which a Frenchman, name of Engel, debated Richard Rorty, regarding the veracity of the concept called truth. Rorty, a pragmatist by claim, did not see too much to get excited about. This squared with the commonly-held view that Mr. Rorty was 'nonchalant' about his philosophy. The Frenchman, a professor at the Sorbonne at the time, tried his darnedest to get under Rorty's skin with various questions and objections, but the American would not be badgered. One man,(Engel, I think) said truth was a norm of inquiry, and Rorty countered at one point that at times truth can be useful (a pragmatist's view) while at other times, falsity might be the useful algorithm. So, truth appears to be in the eye of the beholder, based upon what that beholder's motives are at the time of the beholding. All of which pretty much sums up and supports the notion that truth is relative, to wit, it is only of account when parties are able and willing to agree upon it. I am not referring to factual truth, such as: the sun is shining today somewhere in the world. I refer instead to opinionated truth, such as ridiculous claims, made almost daily, by the SCROTUS.

Now, I know there are diametrically differing ideas (or they might as accurately be called opinions), as to what, if anything, constitutes truth. But, experience shows, as Rorty demonstrates, truth is about as useful as tits on a boar. It is misrepresented almost as often as there is a need to represent it. Maybe, at bottom, this is why Rorty made his remark about the usefulness of falsity? Or, perhaps, he was only trying to BE truthful? RR, rest in peace...

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, January 28, 2020 -- 12:29 PM

I penned a maxim this morning

I penned a maxim this morning, regarding the difference(s) between opinion and knowledge. Inasmuch as I do not have the relevant text in front of me now, I'll capsulize it: Opinions are much like beliefs, being based in large part on what someone wants to think about something or other. They do not require all, or perhaps any, of the facts which might support them. Knowledge, on the other hand, is fact-based and accessible to everyone who is capable of independent thought and investigation, or put differently: Knowledge is true, if and only if, snow is white. Opinion obtains when someone SAYS the snow is white, even though a dog has peed on it. Opinions are often lies; while knowledge is generally the truth, as best we are able to express it. (Maybe I'll give you the actual maxim later. It is far less colloquial {and more fundamental} than the foregoing.)