Will Fake News Tri­umph Over Ver­i­fi­able Truth?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

So sound is the ring of some pro­nounce­ments that many as­sume they could only have come from God Almighty. For ex­am­ple: “The devil can cite Scrip­ture for his pur­pose.” Sounds so bib­li­cal, doesn’t it? Ac­tu­ally, the quoted line is from Shake­speare’s

Merchant of Venice, as is: “An evil soul pro­duc­ing holy wit­ness is like a villain with a smil­ing cheek, a goodly ap­ple rot­ten to the heart. Oh, what a goodly out­side false­hood hath!”

If the hardly apos­tolic Howard Stern had con­vinced not only him­self and count­less fel­low coun­try­men he was “King of all Me­dia,” if a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber con­tinue to be­lieve Al Gore in­vented the In­ter­net just so the Kar­dashi­ans might at will break it, why then would they not also be­lieve the Pres­i­dent of the United States when he says un­flat­ter­ing ref­er­ences to him are “fake news” in­vented by evil peo­ple de­ter­mined to pre­vent him from mak­ing Amer­ica great again?

At a Florida rally last week­end he seemed to ramp up his anti-press spiel sev­eral notches when he re­as­sured plac­ard-bear­ing, chant­ing wor­ship­pers that he was not the first U.S. Pres­i­dent to be con­stantly vil­i­fied by the evil con­spir­acy that is the Amer­i­can press, that no less a fig­ure than the nu­mi­nous Thomas Jef­fer­son was in his time con­vinced that “noth­ing can now be be­lieved which is seen in a news­pa­per.”

Ac­tu­ally the above quoted line was part of Jef­fer­son’s re­sponse to a young man who had sought ca­reer ad­vice from the third Pres­i­dent of the United States. “It would be a great fa­vor, too,” 17-year-old John Norvell had writ­ten, “to have your opin­ion of the man­ner in which a news­pa­per, to be most ex­ten­sively ben­e­fi­cial, should be con­ducted, as I ex­pect to be­come the pub­lisher of one for a few years.”

Jef­fer­son’s re­sponse: “To your re­quest of my opin­ion of the man­ner in which a news­pa­per should be con­ducted so as to be most use­ful, I should an­swer, ‘by re­strain­ing it to true facts and sound prin­ci­ples only.’ Yet I fear such a news­pa­per would find few sub­scribers. It is a me­lan­choly truth, that a sup­pres­sion of the press could not more com­pletely de­prive the na­tion of its ben­e­fits than is done by its aban­doned pros­ti­tu­tion to false­hood. Noth­ing can now be be­lieved which is seen in a news­pa­per. Truth it­self be­comes sus­pi­cious by be­ing put into that pol­luted ve­hi­cle.”

Not­with­stand­ing Jef­fer­son’s skep­ti­cal ap­praisal, John Norvell had gone on to be­come the editor of the

Bal­ti­more Whig and one of the first U.S. sen­a­tors from Michi­gan. In all events it was also Thomas Jef­fer­son who, sev­eral years af­ter his let­ter to the teenaged Norvell, would write: “Were it left to me to de­cide whether we should have a gov­ern­ment with­out news­pa­pers, or news­pa­pers with­out a gov­ern­ment, I should not hes­i­tate a mo­ment to pre­fer the lat­ter.”

It turns out that Jef­fer­son, when he wrote to the teenager, was em­bit­tered by re­ports spread by his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents that he had slept with one of his slaves, 16-yearold Sally Hem­ings. (Re­cent DNA test­ing has con­cluded that her six chil­dren are in­deed con­nected to the Jef­fer­son blood­line.)

While he had of­ten un­der­scored the im­por­tant role of a free press to a demo­cratic so­ci­ety, Jef­fer­son’s at­ti­tude to­ward news­pa­pers un­der­went a sea change af­ter they painted a neg­a­tive pic­ture of him lead­ing up to his in­au­gu­ra­tion as Pres­i­dent— rem­i­nis­cent of the present oc­cu­pier of the White House who had en­joyed a par­tic­u­larly cosy re­la­tion­ship with the me­dia un­til he de­clared him­self a can­di­date for the of­fice of Pres­i­dent of the United States. By the time he’d duked it out on TV with Fox News host Megyn Kelly, “blood com­ing out of her eyes and her wher­ever”; by the time he’d out­paced “lowen­ergy” Jeb Bush and shoved fel­low Repub­li­can run­ners out of the race to the White House— and de­clared Hil­lary “crooked” and too weak to stand up to rapists, whether Mex­i­can or from Wall Street, let alone ISIS—there were few among his sup­port­ers not ir­re­vo­ca­bly con­vinced the press ex­isted only to do Amer­ica harm!

As for the Sally Hem­ings story that re­port­edly had soured Jef­fer­son’s re­la­tion­ship with the news­pa­pers of his day, al­beit not for long, it re­minds me of the time leg­endary Amer­i­can en­ter­tainer Lib­er­ace sued the

Daily Mir­ror colum­nist Wil­liam Con­nor for li­bel. Un­der his pen name Cas­san­dra, Con­nor had strongly hinted that Lib­er­ace was a ho­mo­sex­ual, then il­le­gal in the United King­dom. The year was 1959.

This was how Con­norCas­san­dra de­scribed the highly pop­u­lar Amer­i­can en­ter­tainer in his news­pa­per col­umn: “. . . the sum­mit of sex, the pin­na­cle of mas­cu­line, fem­i­nine and neuter. Ev­ery­thing that he, she, and it can ever want . . . a deadly, wink­ing, snig­ger­ing, snug­gling, chromium-plated, scent-im­preg­nated, lu­mi­nous, quiv­er­ing, gig­gling, fruit­flavoured, minc­ing, ice-cov­ered heap of mother love.”

Ac­cord­ing to ex­pert le­gal an­a­lysts, the case partly hinged on the term “fruit-flavoured” as fruit is an Amer­i­can slang term for ho­mo­sex­ual. Con­nor de­nied he was fa­mil­iar with this us­age. As for Lib­er­ace, he de­nied he was gay, stat­ing: “I am against the prac­tice be­cause it of­fends con­ven­tion and it of­fends so­ci­ety.”

Lib­er­ace was awarded eight thou­sand pounds, “the largest li­bel set­tle­ment for any case in Bri­tish le­gal his­tory.” The trial was de­scribed as “one of the most sen­sa­tional li­bel cases of the cen­tury.”

Fast for­ward to 1982, when Scott Thor­son, Lib­er­ace’s 22-year-old for­mer chauf­feur, sued Lib­er­ace for $113 mil­lion in pal­imony af­ter he was let go by the en­ter­tainer. Again Lib­er­ace de­nied he was ho­mo­sex­ual; he in­sisted Thor­son was never his lover. The case was set­tled out of court in 1986.

In 2013 Steven Soder­bergh di­rected Be­hind the Can­de­labra, about the last ten years in the life of the pi­anist Lib­er­ace, with par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on his sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with Thor­son. The movie starred Michael Dou­glas as the pi­anist, Matt Da­mon and re­cently de­ceased Deb­bie Reynolds. Yet an­other ini­tially fake-news story that turned out to be noth­ing but the truth.

All of which goes to show how on the but­ton was Paul Th­er­oux, author of Sir Vidia’s

Shadow, from which is taken the fol­low­ing: “So much of life is mum­bling shad­ows and the fu­ture is just si­lence and dark­ness. But time passes by, time’s torch il­lu­mi­nates, it finds con­nec­tions, it makes sense of con­fu­sion, it re­veals the truth. And you hardly know the odd­ness of life un­til you have lived a lit­tle. Then you get it. You are older, look­ing back. For a pe­riod you un­der­stand and can say, I see it all clearly. I re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing.”

As I write, his more poi­sonous Face­book de­trac­tors are busy spew­ing their un­in­formed re­ac­tion to a posted ad­dress pur­port­ing to have been de­liv­ered by the prime min­is­ter at In­de­pen­dence. As it turns out, still more fake news!

The 45th Pres­i­dent of the United States Don­ald Trump (right) and leg­endary en­ter­tainer Lib­er­ace: What do they have in com­mon with Found­ing Fa­ther Thomas Jef­fer­son?

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