“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Daniel Patrick Moynihan said this. It was quoted by Maureen Dowd in a column on Saturday, August 21, in The New York Times under the heading “Going Mad in Herds.” Her subject was the furor over the mosque in New York and the report from the Pew Research Centre that the percentage of Americans who now believe that “our Christian president” is a Muslim has risen to 18 percent. It was 12 percent when Obama ran for president and 11 percent after his inauguration.

We will have to wait until this madness subsides. Obviously, no rational counter-campaign will do any good. Events and the passage of time – and the arrival of other, one hopes, less pernicious madnesses – will take care of it.

In the meantime let us blame the media. At least in the quality press and among responsible broadcasters the distinction between fact and opinion was axiomatic. Facts were reported in the news columns and opinions given on the editorial pages and on their equivalents on the air. The moment editors allowed reporters of news to give their opinion, they found themselves on top of a slippery slope. It was understood that in the spaces reserved for the expression of opinion, facts were sacrosanct.

No one in talk radio today has ever heard of that distinction. However, it is of course true that yellow journalism has always existed. The only counter-force to the spreading of malicious lies has always been the conscience of those who understood that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Back to Maureen Dowd.

“The president,” she wrote, “who is always talking about wanting to be perfectly clear is ever more opaque. The One, who owes his presidency to the intense feeling he stirred up, turns out to be a practical guy who can’t deal with intense feeling.

“He ran as a man apart – Joe Biden was enlisted to folksy him up – and now he must deal with the fact that many see him as a man apart.

“Too lofty to pay heed to the daily bump and grind of politics, Obama has failed to present himself as someone with the common touch. And to the extent that people don’t know him or don’t get him, he becomes easier to demonize.

“Obama is the victim of the elevated expectations he so skillfully created in 2008.

“He came as a redeemer and then – tied up in W.’s Gordian knots, dragged down by an economy leeched by wars and Wall Street charlatans – didn’t redeem. And nothing bums out a nation that blows with the wind like a self-appointed messiah.”

This post was inspired by Charles Small.

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5 responses to ““Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

  1. Hey, leave me out of it! I’m just a messenger, passing along cyber-links as I deem appropriate from time to time, with nary an independent thought in my befuddled head.

  2. Horace Krever

    To blame the media is a futile excercise. Distortion of the truth by the subjective choice or interpretation of “facts” is inevitable and has always existed. History writing, from the beginning of recorded time, is an excellent example. The only thing that can be done about the phenomenon is the cultivation of one’s critical faculties and healthy scepticism.

    • I always defend the media when they are collectively attacked, especially if we include word of mouth as a medium, on the ground that without them we would know nothing.  However, in this instance my contempt for American Talk Radio has led me astray. It bears a lot of responsibility for Islamophobia.

  3. This “controversy” is another page in the Culture Wars saga. It is a phony controversy, of course, because the facts are not the issue. That’s why one side makes up its own “facts” as it goes along. The conflict is one of identity. Those who marshal people using hatred and fear are giving their followers an identity, “We are Us (the chosen ones), and they are Them (the other).” What is lacking in the followers of fearmongers that drives them to embrace xenophobia as a uniting principle? What has made their lives so empty? What has been taken from them? and … who took it?

    • An excellent comment.

      Another horrifying example of irrational – and almost universal – xenophobia is the fate of the gypsies in Europe, with which I will deal later this week.