Truth is truth: Government rhetoric of fighting facts
On August 19, presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani participated in an interview with Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd regarding developments in the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Todd questioned Giuliani on why Trump has yet to be interviewed by the team heading up the investigation, to which Giuliani gave an eyebrow-raising reply.
“I’m not going to be rushed into having him testify so that (President Trump) gets trapped into perjury,” Giuliani said. “When you tell me that he should testify because he’s going to tell the truth and he shouldn’t worry, that’s so silly, because it’s somebody’s version of the truth, not the truth. Truth isn’t truth.”
This problematic statement undermines the objectivity of factual information provided by the government by placing truth in the eyes of the beholder. In stating that Trump’s testimony will be “somebody’s version of the truth,” Giuliani implies that Trump’s truth doesn’t align with the objective truth.
In portraying the truth as something up for debate, the government makes it so that facts no longer function as concrete evidence. Rather, the truth becomes malleable, allowing for the manipulation of ideas to suit their own needs.
The history of this narrative
The idea of government leaders seeking to manipulate the narrative of history in the making is not a new concept. Rather, it is a phenomenon that has persisted throughout political history.
University of Houston associate professor of journalism and mass communication Dr. Lindita Camaj has done research in focused on political communication and the relationship of media and politics.
“The relationship between the press and the government has always been rocky because the role of the media in this country is to be not the opposition to the government, but an oversight body,” Camaj said. “Of course, no government likes to be overseen.”
This governmental oversight is meant to hold those in positions of power accountable for the truth of their actions. This truth does not always portray political figures in a flattering light, so those who it affects seek to change it to maintain a favorable public image.
The idea of the government manipulating the truth “goes back even to the Depression era,” Camaj said. “During that time, President Hoover was really trying hard to frame how the Depression was perceived. Even the word Depression is actually a framed terminology to try to control what was going on.”
From Hoover to Nixon, from Clinton to Trump, this manipulation of the truth has persisted over time. It has gotten exponentially worse under the current presidential administration.
Since its infancy, the leaders in the Trump administration have sought to invalidate the truth so they won’t be held accountable for the falsehoods they spread.
During his first public briefing shortly after Trump’s inauguration, the White House press secretary at the time, Sean Spicer, provided the falsehood that the crowd present at Trump’s inauguration ceremony was the largest audience to ever attend the event.
Shortly after this statement was made, in January of 2017, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway stated in an interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that Spicer gave alternative facts, not falsehoods.
This Orwellian concept of stating that two contrary ideas are simultaneously true attempts to hide government wrongdoing from the public by spreading misinformation and creating confusion.
Government leaders in recent years have taken this desire to shape the truth a step further in bypassing the media entirely. Utilizing social media sites such as Twitter, the president and members of his administration are able to communicate with the public directly.
This allows them to spread their own versions of the truth without the fact-checking accountability of the media.
“This (relationship) is not new,” Camaj said. “The language that is being used and the degree to which this is done explicitly is the degree to which the president uses a channel for negotiation like Twitter is.”
Manipulating truth, public and press
Attempts by the government to manipulate or hide the truth not only impact the public that they’re connecting with but also the media that is meant to hold them accountable.
“For a long time, journalists were seen as the beacon of truth and as the one who keeps an eye on the government on behalf of the people,” Camaj said.
This job is complicated by the government’s perception of the media as the enemy of the people. In undermining the validity of this crucial oversight body, the government places doubt in the minds of the public about the truth of the media’s statements. This makes citizens more likely to believe the falsehoods that the government spreads.
If journalists aren’t able to do their jobs effectively because of how they are perceived, then the public may not have access to the objective truth of a situation.
“The people who would be most impacted are the people who are not as informed and people who tend to be less educated,” Camaj said. “Especially those less educated in terms of not having enough media literacy.”
Life and arts editor Cristobella Durrette is a creative writing sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected].