Have you heard the news? You and I are now living in a “post-truth” world. The Oxford Dictionaries proclaimed the official beginning of the new era in 2016 by selecting “post-truth” as the Word of the Year. According to our betters in academia, in the ruling elite, and in the punditocracy, the very concept of truth is outmoded.
The post-truth era promises to be a wild ride. For example, in a trial we must swear our testimony will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—but if there is no such thing as truth, what does that oath mean? For that matter, what does it mean for someone to make a promise if there is no truth? In a post-truth world, a promise is meaningless. A post-truth person is free to swear on a Bible to uphold the Constitution and then set right to work subverting it.
“Post-truth” clearly has had a big impact on the world of what we used to call “the news.” The long-suffering people of the USSR had a joke about the two main Soviet newspapers, Pravda and Izvestya: “In Pravda [“truth”] there is no news [“izvestya”], and in Izvestya [“news”] there is no truth.” Are we there yet? How much of what you hear on CNN or read in the New York Times can you believe?
Once upon a time, reporters in America at least claimed to be professionally dedicated to finding the truth and reporting the news, but no more. Fake newsman Dan Rather provided us with a parable of the new post-truth news in the fiasco which came to be known as “Rathergate.” In the classic New York Times headline, the memos Rather used to go after George W. Bush were described as “fake but accurate.” The Times got it half right. It turned out that they were fake and inaccurate. No truth and no news, only a brouhaha stirred up by reporters and the media.
We have come a long way since 2004 and Rathergate. It is much worse now. The people in the media loathed George W. Bush, but their feelings about W. then were as nothing in comparison to how they feel about Trump today. Their hatred for Trump has driven them completely around the bend. Now it is fake, get-Trump news 24 hours a day.
How did we get here? These post-truth people in the media were taught that the concept of truth is obsolete. They learned that on campus. Postmodernism rules on American campuses today, and a core idea of the postmodernists is that claims to truth are meaningless. Richard Rorty, the best known of the American postmodernists, states their position this way:
To say that we should drop the idea of truth as out there waiting to be discovered is not to say that we have discovered that, out there, there is no truth. It is to say that our purposes would be served best by ceasing to see truth… as a topic of philosophical interest, or “true” as a term which repays “analysis.”
For the dominant voices in the media, truth is no longer a topic of interest. In the absence of interest in the truth, all that remains—all that can remain—is a contest to determine which version of events wins and an effort by the media to make certain it is their version that does win. In other words, it is just a struggle for power rooted only in a will to power.
For the most part, the people in the American media now provide campaigns of political propaganda instead of real news—just as it was in the not-so-good old Soviet Union.