January 25, 2017

MALPASS | No Alternative Reality

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By now I assume most people brave enough still to read the news have become acquainted with the so-called “alternative facts” situation. For those who may be unaware or have missed this particular scandal, it began when White House press secretary and noted Dippin’ Dots opponent Sean Spicer berated the media for their alleged misrepresentation of the crowd on the National Mall during President Trump’s inauguration. One problem: photos from the 2017 inauguration show that Trump failed to attract anywhere near the two million people who attended President Obama’s first inauguration. The visual evidence is clear: Trump’s crowd was sizable, but Obama’s was objectively larger; one stretches to the end of the national mall, one does not. Nor does the time of day change the crowd size (despite what Mr. Spicer may have said); the Guardian’s article on the matter contains a timelapse that clearly shows the crowd size from beginning to end of the inauguration. You can debate why Trump failed to garner as a large a crowd; perhaps it is because Obama was the first black president and so his inauguration carried a certain historical nature to it, perhaps it truly is because Trump supporters, supposedly unlike liberals, had jobs they had to go to that day. Perhaps it is some combination, but that’s not the point of this piece. The point is that despite this evidence, Sean Spicer stood in front of the press and American people and told them, verbatim, “this is the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”

Misdirection and deception have been common in politics for as long as humans have been forming governments. Democrats and Republicans alike have lied to the public. It has happened, it happens and it will continue to happen as long as politics exist. This is by no means an apology for deceit in government. With the exception of maintaining national security (an already concerningly vague addendum), there can be no excuse for politicians, people we elected to advocate for and represent us, to lie. Their job is to do what is best for the public; not their party, not their donors, but their constituents. Speaking of which, I’d like to see the term “public servant” used more often in politics, not “leader.” Politicians may represent “we the people” on the national and world stage, they may serve as role models and mentors, but let’s stop this notion that they are the ones who are creating the future for this country.

Lying to us is bad enough, especially with assertions that are so easily disproven, but the truly galling part is that the Trump administration attempted to justify this lie. During an interview with Chuck Todd, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway referred to this incident as Spicer giving “alternative facts.” There are no such things. There can be alternative interpretations or competing opinions, but facts are absolute. It is a fact that it snowed last Tuesday; it is an opinion that the weather sucked. Now I could tell you the temperature rose to seventy degrees and roses bloomed, but I don’t think anyone would buy these as “alternative facts.” It is an insult to Chuck Todd, to the press in general and to the American people.

Unfortunately, none of us can prevent the Trump administration from using these so-called “alternative facts.” They have yet to admit to any wrongdoing. On the contrary, Spicer on Monday told the Press “I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” However, the press can and must do something to counteract this deception. While most sane people in the media have pushed back against this idea, both from the left and the right, the Trump team has been called out before and nothing appears to have changed. But that doesn’t mean anyone has to play along. Now, more than ever, we need the media to clearly  and without hesitation call these “alternative facts”  what they are: lies. Headlines shouldn’t read “Trump Team Presents Alternative Facts” but rather, “Trump Team Lies.” Anything else will legitimize their dishonesty. We aren’t even a week into the Trump presidency and already they think they can lie to the American people about facts that anyone with an internet connection can verify. Who knows what they may try to lie about next?

Not everything can be verified by the press, but crowd size can be. Global warming can be. It’s time the media started truly pushing back against these “alternative facts.” There is no reason why the press or anyone else has to accept demonstrably false information, nor allow the administration to refer to such information as true. They cannot be allowed to live in a different world than ours where “alternative facts” exist. We cannot stop the Trump administration from spreading falsehoods, but we can label them as what they are: liars.

Soren Malpass is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at skm94@cornell.edu. Sorenity Now appears alternate Thursdays this ­semester.

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