Jan. 22, 2017: "Alternative Facts"
On the bus home from D.C. yesterday, after the Women's March that I was fortunate enough to attend, after Twitter finally loaded I saw from numerous posts that Sean Spicer—the new White House press secretary—had claimed that Donald Trump's inauguration had drawn the biggest crowd ever. This weak and transparent statement, meant to boost Trump's fragile ego and undermine the powerful demonstrations happening all over the world that day, was something of a litmus test for the media, given that it was delivered in Spicer's first real press conference. How should future press conferences be covered? Live, or after-the-fact with commentary? Will media outlets call Trump and his team on their lies, even regarding stuff as stupid as attendance at events? CNN actually did a good job, rebuffing the statement immediately on Twitter.
Then, Chuck Todd pressed Kellyanne Conway on the lies, and, well, she referred to the falsehoods as "alternative facts." Obviously this is ludicrous and endemic of the Trump-ian disease sweeping this country; it also got me thinking about what an "alternative fact" might really be, as opposed to what Spicer said, which was a lie. To me, it makes sense that an "alternative fact" would be a fact—i.e., something that's true—that provides an alternative position in a given debate, something outside the ongoing discourse. If we were arguing about the necessity of Planned Parenthood and you said, "Bananas are high in potassium," that would perhaps be an "alternative fact"—a fact, sure, but outside the realm of the debate, trying to prove something else.
So, Conway's appearance on Chuck Todd's show was ironic—morbidly, frighteningly so—and, to use a college word, self-reflexive. For in her attempts to cover Spicer's ass, Conway offered up actual "alternative facts" herself: rather than answer Todd's questions, she cited statistics about women in poverty in the U.S. While it wouldn't surprise me if these statistics were untrue in the end as well, they were ostensibly facts. Yet, to use Conway's own term, they were "alternative facts." When we're talking about propagandistic communications tactics, these facts are "alternative" and not relevant, even if they're important within their own context. (Of course, Conway is totally disingenuous about caring for people in poverty, so there's that, too...) Anyways, this was just something that interested me today. Also, it's very portentous.
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