Ideas

Journalism's Knife Fight: Fact vs. Truth

While the idea that we're living in a post-truth era is still highly contested, there is greater agreement that facts themselves have also become contestable. Belief and feeling have sideswiped facts, especially when it comes to news stories about politics. IDEAS producer Naheed Mustafa examines the increasingly elastic and unsettling relationship between facts and truth.

What should truth-telling look like in the post-truth era?

A misinformation news stand set up by the Columbia Journalism Review, in midtown Manhattan, aimed to educate news consumers about the dangers of disinformation, or fake news, in the lead-up to the U.S. midterm elections in 2018. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)
Listen to the full episode53:59

** Originally published on February 6, 2019.

While the idea that we're living in a post-truth era is still highly contested, there is greater agreement that facts themselves have also become contestable. Belief and feeling have sideswiped facts, especially when it comes to news stories about politics. 

IDEAS producer Naheed Mustafa examines the increasingly elastic and unsettling relationship between facts and truth.

Daniel Dale is the Washington bureau chief for The Toronto Star. 1:27

In the old days of broadcast news, information would arrive promptly at the supper hour. Each evening, families would tune into their channel of choice and take in the day's news as a list of trustworthy facts.

Twenty-four hours later, those facts would be updated or corrected as need be. It was a simpler time to navigate the world and be confident in what you knew.

Contrast that scenario with today's constant and unending digital churn of news and opinion that updates minute to minute.

Reporting and editorializing bleed into each other, sometimes bolstering each other, sometimes cancelling each other out. Original sources of information are often hard to figure out. It makes for a loud, chaotic, and often stupefying landscape.

"The Truth" has always been contested territory. We know that one person's version of the same event will differ from another's. There's perspective, and bias, and slant.

But what about the other kind of truth – the verifiable kind we call facts? Even the notion of verifiability has become slippery.

In all of this, journalists are still trying to do what they've always done: report the facts. But how does one do that in a time when the relationship between fact and truth is stretched so thinly that even a gentle pull could rupture it all together?


Guests in this episode:


Web Extra | Listen to the full interviews in this episode

Carlin Romano is professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. 34:44
Daniel Dale is the Washington bureau chief for The Toronto Star. 14:36
Lindsay Fitzgerald is a documentary filmmaker. 22:06
Amanda Rogers is visiting assistant professor of humanities at Colgate University. 55:52


Further reading and more on this topic:



**This episode was produced by Naheed Mustafa.