Living in the Post Factual World: Lying as a Profession

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It is early on Friday morning, March 31. I am sitting in my room, catching up on some editing before I lull myself back to sleep. It will be a busy day. A nice walk with my son, helping a family member move houses, and hopefully, attending the evening session of the Stanford Invitational.

james dunaway .jpgJames Dunaway, pixelated an all, photo from USATF.org

A couple weeks at home before the athletic season begins, and I am trying to understand the challenges of our modern world. Fake news, polarizing news, social media that pretends to be news, have we just gone too far?

I take a deep breath, and it is time to channel the late James Dunaway, my mentor, former editor and dear friend. What would James Dunaway say today?

We live in a time that would make George Orwell cringe. He had predicted it so well. He had given his health to writing about the nuances of modern war and propagande in Homage to Catalonia, his amazing book on the evils of the Spanish Civil War.

The very idea of democracy is in peril. When our forefathers, imperfect men at best (George Washington owned 400 slaves, Thomas Jefferson owned 600 slaves), helped found this country, they did so, noting that they wanted specific differences from the countries that many had emigrated from. They wanted freedom from religion, the idea that one could belief what they wanted, how they wanted, as long as it did not infringe on someone else's rights. The comment made by modern politiicians that the U.S. is a Christian nation is just plain wrong. That is not what Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, nor Benjamin Franklin said, wrote or meant. There were Jews, Christians, Muslims, Masons, athiests, among others in the thirteen colonies. There were also thousands of slaves. Women did not have the right to vote in the U.S. when our country was founded (that happened in the 20th century).

Those horrible wrong doings are still being paid for by this country today. The lesson of the most recent election is that how many Americans, and there are many, felt left out of any of the recovery of the past seven or eight years. It is also how many had lost respect for themselves and our country as they lost jobs and were forced to do one, two, three jobs to just make ends meet. I see that everyday in California, wondering how so many good, hard working people make it day to day with expensive housing, among other things.

We do not need to make things worse by lying about how good or bad the economy, healthcare and general economy are. In the U.S., we have a president who seems to be more polarizing than any in my memory. This person, as James Dunaway might note, has captured the imaginations and frustrations of many, and has most media organizations waiting for each and every tweet that comes from the 45th president.

If I channel James Dunaway correctly, Mr. Dunaway would remind me to look at what the President is really doing and whether the social media he so deftly uses is really just a way to focus people on the tertiary issues. The tweets rile us up, but that is not where the real governing, or dismantling of government is taking place.

We all seem to have caught it. Check your iphone, and you will find, if you so desire, 30 new stories on the President, Russian influence, healthcare, and if you read them, you will get pretty wound up.

I repeat in my mind comments made by the late Bert Rosenthal of AP and the late James Dunaway. Bert told me, early in my writing career that many of the people I will interview will lie to me, so be careful. Dunaway told me that he gives all interviewees one lie, and then, he knew that they were a liar.

Both writers were extremely generous, but did not suffer fools or liars. They would give a person the time to explain themselves, if they would. It might not be the most positive view of the person, but, it was honest, warts and all, as they might say.

In 2017, as it has been for many years, lying is a profession. It is used to take us away from the real story, the real conflagration. As a citizen in a democracy, part of your job is to tell the lying from the truth. It is very hard sometimes.

I recall watching the Watergate hearings at the ripe old age of 14 and 15. I would sit at the food counter at the swimming pool in St. Louis and watch it on TV. I loved to watch the late Senator Sam Ervin begin with his small town country lawyer pitch, and then, the person being interviewed did not know what hit him. Ervin had first come into prominsence when he lead the battle to censure Senator Joseph McCarthy. It was amazing watching grown men lie in front of so much scrutiny.

Propaganda was one of the most important weapons of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The Nazi higher ups, including Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, wined and dined Charles Lindbergh and his wife, showing them the supposed might and power of Nazi Germany at the time. Lindbergh went back to the U.S., convinced that Germany was very strong and that, under the Nazi's, who only wanted a little bit of land, Germany could be okay and the U.S. should stay out of the upcoming war. In November 1941, the 'America First' movement had hold of the U.S., over 2/3 of Americans did not want the U.S. involved in the upcoming war. They were still tired from WW1, and the Depression was in full force.

In 2017, we see Brexit reshaping Europe and the UK. No one knows what is truly going on and will happen. Divorces are messy and emotional. In the U.S., we see a new President who has as many supporters as defenders, and a national government that seems to have taken partisanship to a fascinating level.

And then we come to sports. Sports is supposed to take us away from modern life. Instead, it is a microcosm. I recall asking Seb Coe, in August 2015, just before all hell broke loose, about how long it would take to implement some of his changes. Coe, not knowing what was before him, noted 100 days.

The first 18 months have been full of reactions, missteps and some genuine successes. They have also been full of media who seem to make up the facts as they are needed. Let me be clear, the IAAF has stepped into its own stench on several occasions. Each week I am told about a new scandal, most never existed, but there are a few that continue to develop. The Lamine Diack reign has come to an end, and the stench is horrific. Pappa Diack sits in Senegal, under the apparent protection of the government, and hurls accusations out about how he has been mistreated, and he never did anything wrong. C'est dommage.

It is apparent to this writer that Pappa Diack will take anyone down that he can before he goes, kicking and screaming, to a French court, where French investigators want to question him. My suggestion to the French, put Lamine Diack in jail, hard jail until his son, who I believe, will let his father rot before he serves a day of hard time.

The Le Monde story suggesting that Frankie Fredericks took money in order to support the Rio vote continues to cause ripples. Some stories suggest that there are more than Mr. Fredericks involved in such chicanery. Until there is proof, however, it continues to be rumor.

I recall my history teacher at De Smet, in my freshman year of high school. Mr. Grawer would drill into us about the need for various sources. He warned us about the emotional coloring that contempory sources could bring to a situaion and that critical analysis is needed to tell the real from the not so real. I am not sure Mr. Grawer would like post factual.

The recent story on FBI investigation of Alberto Salazar seems like a dud. One news source picked it up, then, several others picked it up. That does not make it fact, just a modern media version of the game many played as kids before iphones. We called it telephone.

For right now, I am looking forward to a night of distance running, and talking about distance running with friends, some upcoming marathons, and whether a shoe is so fast, it needs to be banned.

Oh, for simple pleasures.

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