Do “facts” exist anymore? Or are we all living in alternative realities, where we all have our own set of facts?
It sounds silly, but it’s all too real.
Just days after President Trump moved into the White House in 2017, top aide Kellyanne Conway kicked off the whole game. During a “Meet the Press” appearance, she was asked about the size of the crowd at the inauguration — yes, that was an actual news story — and she said then-press secretary Sean Spicer “gave alternative facts” to dispute claims that there was a paltry crowd.
In a fantastic twist you couldn’t have made up, “journalist” Dan Rather blasted Mrs. Conway (yes, the guy who used “alternative facts” when he claimed former President George W. Bush never served in the Texas Air National Guard and got booted from his CBS News anchor chair). It’s all gone downhill since then.
Now, “facts” have become fungible. Every day, both side cite “facts” — often diametrically opposed “facts” — to support their arguments. Fact-checkers swing into action, with liberal sites backing Democrats’ “facts” and conservative sites validating Republicans’ “facts.”
And both sides are embracing the fact that maybe there aren’t any “facts” anymore.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a testy hearing in January with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about the U.S.-Mexico border, interrupted to declare: “I reject your facts.”
Well, that pretty much ends that debate.
Ms. Nielsen, a no-nonsense sort, was having none of it. “These aren’t my facts,” she fired back. “These are the facts.” But were they her own “facts”?
Now, it’s all too late — everyone is armed with their own “facts.”
Especially Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She takes to social media daily to decry this or denounce that, often citing “facts.” Last week, she said that “there is a potential that a lot of diseases could, um, escape these melted glaciers, things that were frozen for thousands of years, and that they’re going to get into our water.” She must’ve read an article, so now, clearly, she’s an expert.
The 29-year-old former bartender also said mosquitoes are “starting to fly further north that carry diseases like malaria, and, um, a whole slew of other things,” so, boom, another “fact.”
AOC embodies the new flexible definition of “fact,” lamenting to The Washington Post that “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.”
Then, as always, there’s former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, for whom “facts” are whatever he says they are.
At the Iowa State Fair last month, the 2020 Democratic front-runner declared to a crowd of supporters: “We choose unity over division. We choose science over fiction. We choose truth over facts.”
Mr. Biden actually bailed out of his first run for the White House in 1988 after it was revealed that he had plagiarized parts of his own life story from a British politician.
“My intent was not to deceive anyone,” Mr. Biden wrote at the time. “For if it were, I would not have been so blatant.”
The 76-year-old is at it again, this time after telling a story last month about how a four-star general asked him to travel to Afghanistan to award a Silver Star to a Navy captain who saved a fellow soldier. It was a great tale, “except almost every detail in the story appears to be incorrect,” The Post wrote.
Mr. Biden has been defending himself for a week for conflating the stories of three different soldiers into one anecdote, and on Monday said he wasn’t trying to “mislead anybody.”
“Details matter in terms of whether you’re trying to mislead people. And I wasn’t trying to mislead anybody,” Mr. Biden told reporters in Iowa at a Labor Day picnic. “My point is, I was there.”
Then he went further on Tuesday, saying “the details are irrelevant in terms of decision-making.”
Snopes, a liberal fact-checking site, backed Mr. Biden, saying his “story is not ‘false,’ as was widely reported, because his underlying recollection of pinning a medal on a grieving soldier who did not want the medal is based on a real occurrence.” Huh?
Then, of course, there’s Mr. Trump. “As of Aug. 5, his 928th day in office, he had made 12,019 false or misleading claims,” according to The Post. Even if the liberal paper is only half right, that’s a lot of falsities.
So, forget facts. Politicians from both sides are telling you they don’t exist anymore.
But luckily, you know better. “Facts” are real, and they still exist. They’re hard to find and harder to validate, but that’ll be every American’s job this election season as they sift through the claims from Democrats and Republicans.
And always remember, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own “facts.”
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.