The Truth is Out There, but it's on a Need-to-Know Basis
Truth, a word we all have heard and use often in our daily lives. By definition, it means "being in accord with reality or fact." It's also used to designate authenticity in certain instances. It's polar opposite is falsehood or lying; terms we all understand and use in our daily lives. Yet, truth, being truthful, and telling the truth are seemingly unimportant in this day and age. Maybe it's because the truth is often boring or mundane, while lies on the other hand are esoteric and can be interpreted in many ways. Lies seem to be the topics of interest in the media as "they sell papers," to use an old phrase. Truth and facts are even failing in our school systems; often being given lower status than "feelings" or social issues.
Truth in Advertising
Advertising, whether for products or services, whether it’s on the Internet, printed in a magazine or newspaper, on the radio or on television, or anywhere else, must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence. The Federal Trade Commission is the enforcement body that manages the body of laws pertaining to advertising. All advertisements are subjected to the SAME set of standards, regardless of the product or size of the company. Amazon is treated the same way as your local bakery when it comes to fact-checking of the messages being published. Topics which are especially scrutinized are claims related to health, food products, alcohol, tobacco, and dietary products. The rationale for this extra scrutiny is tied to the facts that consumers could be physically harmed or even die if they consume something that claims to be what it isn't. The premise of monitoring advertising is done to prevent fraud and actually protect consumers from exposure to potentially dangerous products. Unfortunately, the system isn't perfect and wild claims about rapid weight-loss or overnight hair regrowth still manage to get exposure in certain formats. But, despite these small shortcomings, the laws are highly effective and stand up to scrutiny from an outside observer.
One of the things that constitutes false advertising is the altering or retouching of images to mislead the viewer into thinking the image is attainable (this is the top visual used in weight-loss ads.) Others include hidden fees or surcharges, the omission of key details such as side effects, and any sort of size or weight manipulation. Sellers cannot use a misleading health claim, they cannot overstate the effectiveness of a product, or can they use a very small sample to convey actual results. Claims about color, additives or preservatives, or any other product characteristic must be ironclad and above question. Retail stores are prohibited from using the bait and switch tactic to upsell consumers. An example of this would be a store that advertises an amazing price on a TV, but has no stock on hand and instead tries to sell shoppers something else. The false promise of a great deal brought them store traffic and is illegal. Also other claims like "no risk guarantee" must be 100% no risk and detail the return or replacement policies.
It's important to protect American consumers from shady manufacturers who only wish to prey upon people for their own benefit. By having these laws, consumers have a buffer zone to protect them; usually without even noticing. Our society places a high level of trust in the agency that is charged with protecting us and rightly so. We demand truth and tend to get upset if we're tricked or misled by a product of service. The repercussions from violating these laws are immediate and enforceable. What's surprising is that we, as a nation, do not demand the same sort of non-biased oversight in other areas.
Truth in the Media
News anchors in the 1960's and 1970's were serious people who took reporting the news seriously. Of course back then it was focused on reporting the news instead of today's newscaster trying to make news. Men like Roger Grimsby, Hal Fishman, and Robert Novak were just a few of the sensational newsmen of the past. They were master orators with command of the language, respect of their peers, and most importantly, they were trusted by the American people to be honest, factual, and to only report on confirmed events. Stories were routinely put "on hold" until facts could be independently verified and no veteran reporter would consider risking their reputation as a newscaster on reporting on a partial story or rumor.
If we fast-forward to today, the landscape changes dramatically. No longer are the major network nightly news desks populated by stalwart anchormen and women. No longer are stories fact checked before they are added to the queue. Reporting the news is no longer enough for ratings hungry media outlets. Our landscape is littered with sensationalists who try to squeeze very detail from a potential story to make it as exotic as possible; the click bait headlines are the prize. Additionally we have numerous media personalities who insist on trying to be the news instead of reporting it. Fox's Megyn Kelly is a great example; she's put her own interests and her own career ahead of every story she reports on. Others on different networks have been identified as doing the same and once called out for their tactics usually are disgraced; remember Brian Williams and his issues.
Either by omission or commission, the media is not telling us the whole truth, merely a version of it. More often it's propaganda to support a partisan claim such as global warming. The irony of the entire media system is that it's always been expected to "self-police." Meaning that erroneous reporting should be dealt with by other journalists in the form of fact-checking and actual truth telling. Yet, when everyone is lying in some way, it has become so muddy that no one can really tell who should be believed and who should be ignored. Partisan politics are so entrenched in their respective media camps that it's almost impossible to get a fair and balanced news report; despite what Fox news claims they are delivering.
Truth in Politics
Merely writing the words truth and politics in the same sentence is an almost certain way to generate a laugh from most people. In fact, the trust level of our entire political system is quite low and seems to be dropping each year. This fact is hard to grasp if we use American history as our benchmark. With our first President George Washington and his famous line, "I cannot tell a lie," to President Abraham Lincoln who was known as "Honest Abe," up to modern day, we've seen the slow erosion of the importance of telling the truth. Statesmen of the past were more about solving the growing pains of a nation instead of lining their pockets and setting up their future as high-paid lobbyists.
The irony is that most of the problems we face now as a mature nation are problems created by our government. They know it, we know it, even a child can see it, but for some reason our leaders are immune to taking blame or admitting they were wrong. Even on the most minor topics, once a lawmaker puts something into play that fails, they'll lie, scheme, and do far worse to support a failing agenda item rather than admit they made a mistake in the first place. Instead of taking the high road and doing the right thing from the get go, we often must endure a string of connected problems that usually remain problematic until a new President takes office. Obamacare is one example. It's not living up to the President's expectations but there is no way anyone on the Democratic side will ever admit its a bad law; in fact they'll overfund it, hurting all taxpayers instead. The Gulf War, the immigration laws, and campaign finance reform are all examples of failed policies being supported by lying politicians.
The deceptions go far beyond what most of America even sees, at least until the emergence of Wikileaks which is systematically exposing the fraud and corruption behind leading political figures. Hillary Clinton has been their most recent target and as more of her unethical deals see the light of day, more Americans are rejecting her as a potential candidate for President. The problem is not reserved for national leadership. Local and state governments are often caught in the snares of corruption. The problem is that the punishment for violating the trust of the voters usually means a slap on the wrist. When lawmakers get to make their own rules, then the rules are practically meaningless.
Biggest Liars in Political History
The office of the President has been filled with honorable men and not so honorable men. some of the greatest liars in our history used falsehoods to promote their own personal agendas. When anyone discusses the Vietnam War, one of the biggest whoppers in history needs to be part of that narrative. President Lyndon Johnson lied to the American people about an "unprovoked attack" on US forces which led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and eventually the Vietnam War; problem was that this so-called attack never really happened. Johnson has already been planning a military campaign and he just needed to wag the dog a little to get it going. Staying on the topic of wars, James Polk also lied to get the Mexican-American war going to take the lands which are now California and parts of the southwest. FDR campaigned on not sending Americans to war, which he went ahead and did anyway. We can't forget President Richard Nixon, who lied on so many topics it's hard to list them all. And recently President Obama lied continually about Obamacare and the benefits that America would supposedly see; when in fact it was destined to fail from the start. Of course there is the Bill Clinton lie, "I did not have sex with that woman," the Bush lie, "Read my lips. No new taxes," and President Eisenhower's uncomfortable moment when he was caught lying about the U2 spy plane; only being discovered when one was shot down.
Truth in Science
Several decades ago, science and scientific research were noble pursuits; the hours were long and there was no glamour or prestige for most of the people who did the work. Those few who made significant discoveries were rewarded with additional grants to continue their research, but it was the respect of their peers which was their real reward. Sadly we've seen too many examples of politics infiltrating, manipulatIng, and influencing science and scientific research in the last two decades, to ignore. Stem cell research, intelligent design, the abortion/breast cancer link, fluoride in drinking water, and most recently Global Warming/Cooling/Climate Change are all topics which have been heavily influenced by political leaders. It's easy to see how this can happen, but also unfortunate to see it actually happen. The one factor which connects both sides is money.
Scientists depend on funding to further their research. If scientists cooperate with the requests of government officials, the government shifts funding to their projects. Those scientists who "play ball" get to work on their own research parallel to the government sponsored projects, so they see it as a win-win situation. In the past, the relationship between the two groups worked because the issues often were only focused on national security or the space race. Projects such as advanced weaponry, rockets, and cold war defense projects were front and center and the collaboration was critical. Lately this has shifted dramatically and collaborations are more about "proving" agenda issues; issues that are mostly divisionary and favor either one party or the other.
The Obama Administration took politicization of science to an entirely new level. NASA is now working on immigration and climate change. A panel of so-called energy experts is pushing green energy on America using technology that cannot possibly supply our nation's energy needs. The President has even gone so far as to call Global Climate Change, "settled science." It's an unprecedented example of politics being used to force change when the facts just don't add up. Never before have any other disciplines of science decided that things were ironclad and not subject to further research. These are just a few examples of the transgressions we've seen in our recent history. If it's allowed to continue, then scientific integrity will go the way of the dinosaurs; something we simply cannot allow to happen.
Truth is overrated. Truth is stranger than fiction. Truth is like a lion. The only people who get angry at those speaking the truth are those who live in a world of lies. Tell the truth or someone will tell it for you. Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable Honesty is the art of being truthful; it's an art we should all work daily to master. Denying the truth doesn't change the facts.
So many quotes about being truthful exist, but we're forced to ask who is actually following the guidelines they demonstrate. With such large parts of society more focused on money and power rather than facts and honesty, it's no wonder truth is losing ground in it's importance to most people. Deceptions are evident even in institutions that haven't been reviewed in this document. The Catholic Church and it's cover-ups of children being abused, the school system and the myriad of problems that get kept hidden away, and now with social media, lies are promoted to the point they pollute the facts. Bringing America back to a point where honesty was one of the most important qualities a person could possess will be very difficult; some say impossible. But, if we don't try to reverse the course, then it may be our undoing as a nation.