“A lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”
That nugget of wisdom dates from the 1800s, i.e., decades before anyone ever heard of the Internet – much less Fox “News.”
If a lie traveled that fast in the 19th century, you can only imagine its speed in the 21st, when media and the World Wide Web have given it wings. In 2016, the lie is so broadly and brazenly told as to cower truth itself and to render impotent and faintly ridiculous the little voice insisting, against all evidence, that facts matter. It seems increasingly obvious that to many of us, they simply don’t. Not anymore.
We find ourselves embarked upon a post-empirical era in which the very idea that facts are knowable and concrete has become quaint. These days, facts are whatever the politics of the moment need them to be.
We’ve seen this over and over. We’ve seen it in the controversy over Barack Obama’s birthplace, in the accusations that Sept. 11 was an inside job, in the charge that weapons of mass destruction were in fact discovered in Iraq, and in the claims that there is no scientific consensus about global warming.
Lunatic assertions that fly in the face of the known are now the norm in American political discourse. So last week’s news out of Houston came as a welcome jolt.
It seems Planned Parenthood was exonerated by a grand jury after an investigation into spurious charges that the reproductive health care provider was selling baby parts for profit. Simultaneously, two “citizen journalists” who orchestrated the hoax – David Daleiden, 27, and Sandra Merritt, 62 – were indicted. It was a moment of sweet vindication for Planned Parenthood, following months of vilification and investigation.
This all sprang from a series of videos secretly recorded by Daleiden’s anti-abortion group, “The Center for Medical Progress,” during conversations with officials of various Planned Parenthood affiliates.
Released last year, the videos purported to show the officials negotiating the sale of fetal tissue with people they believed to be medical researchers. As Planned Parenthood first protested, an investigation by FactCheck.org later indicated, and a grand jury now affirms, the videos were deceptively edited. Tissue from aborted fetuses has been used in biomedical research since the 1930s to study everything from polio to Parkinson’s, and while the law prohibits its sale, the patient is allowed to donate it, and Planned Parenthood is allowed to recoup reasonable costs for preparation and transportation to supply it to scientists.
This is what the Planned Parenthood representatives were talking about.
This is what the videos were edited to hide.
One is reminded of how, back in 2010, another activist used another deceptively edited video to suggest that a speech by a black federal employee named Shirley Sherrod was proof of anti-white hatred. It turned out Sherrod’s speech made precisely the opposite point; she spoke of the need to overcome such hatred.
That video, like these, suggests that what we’re dealing with here is not “citizen journalists” – whatever that idiotic term means – but activist zealots out to advance their agenda and embarrass their opponents by any means necessary, without regard to simple decency or plain old truth. Increasingly, that is the way of things.
So it’s welcome news that the two CPM hoaxers find themselves facing felony charges on suspicion of using falsified driver’s licenses to identify themselves to Planned Parenthood. That, we are told, constitutes fraud. In other words, Daleiden and Merritt were ensnared by the trap they set. Justice seldom gets more poetic.
Yes, lies have always moved faster than truth. But it feels good to see truth pull even every now and then.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.