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President Trump, don’t confuse obvious facts and opinions: Paul Heise

Posted 10/24/17

President Donald Trump says that: “I think one of the greatest of all terms I have come up with is ‘fake.’ ”

Is that a confession or a boast? In either event, I love the …

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President Trump, don’t confuse obvious facts and opinions: Paul Heise

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President Donald Trump says that: “I think one of the greatest of all terms I have come up with is ‘fake.’ ”

Is that a confession or a boast? In either event, I love the ambiguity. Maybe “the greatest of all terms (he has) come up with is fake” or fake is the greatest of all such words. Whatever. Both could be true. In fact, both probably are true. We just have to put up with our president and his way with words. And he is good with words. If you discount the feigned, that is the carefully faked, vulgarity and the continuing campaign rhetoric, you can admire the con job. 

When you are interested in testing the truth and not in reinforcing what you want to hear, you don’t try to fake facts. This is the reason the professional news media tries to enforce a distinction between news which can be tested and opinion that is anybody’s guess.

“Words, words, words!” That is actually a quote from Shakespeare. The words of the moment are “alternative facts” and “fake news.” Both couplets lack the poetry of the Bard but they serve their purpose. When Kellyanne Conway detached two words and talked about “alternative” facts and “fake” news, she made a distinction that is not usually noted. Facts and information are one thing and trade news is something else. The former refers to reality that can be tested. The latter requires a judgment call or opinion. When something is fake, someone had to make it so. Deception is involved.

We tend to use too few facts to value and interpret life’s meaning as we look at the world around us. Most people tend to use some form of the scientific method where facts are facts because they have been tested and were not falsified. 

Everyone has a right to their own opinion but they should not confuse opinions with facts. I look back for cases where a biased liberal media might have done that. I could find no glaring examples of attacks on reality, on facts, by the mainstream media. However, I am sure that with time, I could find some. 

On the other hand, claims about crowd size at the inauguration, Obama’s birth certificate, wiretapping and the size of Trump’s narrow election victory are facts, a reality on which Trump’s supporters will concede nothing. Opinions are treated as though they were facts. It would seem that to President Trump, his opinions are facts.

The Republican Trump fans and the Democratic Bernie fans differ more in the bundle of facts that make up their information set than anything else. All of their opinions are formed by Fox News, NPR or other news gathering organizations that are, more or less honestly, trying to form your opinions.

This brings us to “fake news” which is, in its simplest form, the reporting of made-up news stories that are spread via social media. The intent is to mislead customers in the market for goods, services or votes.

The Russians have proven to be adept at this and, if you are to believe the propaganda, tried to and maybe even did influence the conduct and outcome of the 2016 election. The Justice Department special prosecutor and congressional and special prosecutor investigations have found enough smoke to make everyone a suspect but not enough fire to convict.

If anyone has any proven facts, they have not and are not likely to, inform anyone else. Too much is at stake to find the whole story and the real culprits. Fake news is the stuff of deception, conspiracy and treason and I do not believe that we, the hoi polloi, will ever know what actually occurred.

Paul A. Heise, of Mount Gretna, is a professor emeritus of economics at Lebanon Valley College and a former economist for the federal government.


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