Politics: Lies and Spin

by Judy Ferro

We have no ‘theories‘ about the shape of the earth—rather we have the facts…the known explored parts of the world are level, flat—a circular dish surrounded by a barrier of ice that man has never penetrated.”

Thus—with a map on the board and a worksheet on every desk—I would begin instructing 7th graders in an anthropology class on how to take two-column notes.

If the earth were a globe, the 100-mile-long Suez Canal would have a center hump 1,666 feet higher than either end.”

Imagine keeping a straight face while watching the faces of 24 incredulous 12-year-olds as you explain the North Pole is the center of a dish; the South Pole, a rim. Sometimes it seemed forever before one finally raised a hand.

“Mrs. Ferro, no one believes that any more.”

“Oh, you have another theory? Well…maybe we need three column notes—topic, text argument, your response?”

It was a crazy class with a strong message: Examine everything. If your teacher will lie to you, anyone may.

I think it was inspired by the classic archeological dig assignment: give students five objects and ask them to describe a society that believed these items were important. Then “find” a new item that requires revising your conclusions. Science is not static. We learn and revise.

I don’t have to spend much time on Facebook to wish more people had been exposed to such a class. This week a friend shared a chart showing how much the Democrats had raised multiple taxes last January 1. If I’d had time, I would have checked each of the tax schedules. As is, I settled for pointing out that all revenue bills must originate in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Why would anyone take the effort to fabricate such a chart? Are they paid or do they just get a kick out of seeing just how many “shares” they get?

A picture of a battered face supposedly belonging to the policeman who shot Mike Brown in Ferguson went viral until authorities said it wasn’t the right man. Were some so anxious for the policeman to be found right that they decided to lie?

Add to that the claims of cancer cures: meditation, yoga, lemons, gaviola fruit, asparagus, marijuana, you name it. Do people want it to be true so much they lie to themselves or are they trying to make money and advance an agenda?

Remember the fear that the calendar change from 1999 to 2000 would strike a staggering blow to our civilization? Thousands of people knew that most non-financial systems were on timers—like our sprinklers—rather than on calendars, but the fear kept growing.

The responsibility of separating facts from lies is inseparable from the right to free speech. We live in a democracy. We need to seek truth.

Some regard politics as disgusting because politicians lie. Some do; most, however, “spin”—emphasize selected truths. If Politician John Doe supported increased total dollars for education which resulted in a drop in per pupil spending, supporters can say he increased spending while opponents say he decreased it.

It’s the duty of citizens to sort through the spin. Fortunately, the Internet gives us a number of resources. The census bureau’s quickfacts (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd) provides raw data. FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.com analyze claims made in ads and speeches. Snopes.com has been tracking down “urban legends” for nearly twenty years now.

Will Rogers said, “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

Too much of that is going around these days.

Judy Ferro is state committeewoman for the Canyon County Democrats.