"Fact-checkers" and the necessity of credibility

Those who say Donald Trump dwells in a “post-truth” realm are not wrong. He lies a hell of a lot, and misrepresents a hell of a lot more. But in order for the “post-truth” charge to be taken seriously, one must be careful and reliable in calling out “lies.” And one must be serious in understanding why people become conspiracy theorists in the first place. If the press is unaccountable, condescending, and secretive, it won’t be believed, even if it’s right. (Similarly, one of the reasons that so many wild conspiracy theories develop around Hillary Clinton is that—as even her supporters admit—she is extremely secretive. As a purely practical matter, if you act like you’ve got something to hide, people will assume you do. And they’re not irrational to make that inference.) If people are heading for fake news, then it is urgently necessary to figure out how to get them back. One won’t do that by continuing to do the same thing, such as continuing to spew biased and speculative punditry. This is a story about glass houses and stones: in order to convince people not to believe in disreputable sources, you must first give them reason to believe that you yourself are reputable.

For progressives, having a reliable and trustworthy media means not being afraid of uncomfortable truths. If wind turbines kill a bunch of eagles, let’s have the guts to admit it. If the Clintons are actually pretty noxious, let’s be perfectly honest about their failings. If Trump is right about something, then he’s right. And if he is wrong about something, but he read it in the Washington Post, then let’s admit that this reflects worse on the Washington Post than on Trump. The truth is a precious thing, and it should never, ever be distorted for partisan reasons. Being credible means being self-critical, and trying to build a press that people can depend on to help them sort truth from lies.

Having a media people can actually trust should be a fundamental goal of Trump opponents.