While its original archaic meaning was “truthfulness, faithfulness,” as used in common vernacular truthiness is a quality characterizing a “truth” that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.
Since it reemerged and was redefined, Truthiness has been used to chastise fact-twisting journalists, reality-bending memoirists, and truthy politicians who have made up “data” to bolster their fame and fortune.
Sadly, Colbert’s satirical nightly news half hour is gone, as he has made his way to a primetime network talk show, but that word so associated with him is still with us. It popped up for me in the last few weeks. It came to mind as congressional representatives from the majority party engaged in unmistakable truthiness in regard to the, as one reporter described them, “furtively recorded” videos that were being released about Planned Parenthood and the issue of fetal tissue. These heavily edited videos were referenced in the recent Republican debate by at least one candidate describing a still-wriggling newborn awaiting her fate – which turned out to be footage of a baby in another setting altogether. These videos have also ostensibly given rise to a House Judiciary hearing on Planned Parenthood, beginning next Wednesday, with one of the accusations – based on the truthiness created by this untruthful video – being that PP has been performing partial birth abortions.
This, despite the findings in state after state that there has been no such violations. These donations in the service of crucial medical research have been carried out without breaking any laws.
There is a weekly section in the daily paper in my city which vigorously investigates the truthfulness of facts presented in a variety of public settings, from editorials to political forums and debates. The worse ranking is “pants on fire.” I would propose that these admittedly doctored videos would fit in this most blatantly falsified category.
As a former journalist (and perhaps one still), I love the power of facts, the strength of statistics. I also worked as the executive director for a statewide organization that produced an annual fact book of indicators of child and family well-being, from infant deaths to high school graduation rates. So I know that, if scrupulously vetted and objectively presented, numbers and documentary means can be well-intentioned and fairly used. In the weeks and months ahead, expect that every effort will be made (and I will confess when I falter) to avoid truthiness and to, in UU fashion, seek and honor truth in the pursuit of justice.