Coup on the Capitol: Blame Alternative Facts

Suzette Standring
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The coup on the Capitol fell on January 6, the Epiphany, which was the visit to the baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men. It marked recognition of a new era. Epiphany also means a sudden and striking realization. We would be wise to know the domestic terrorism on January 6 proved one thing: “divided we fall.” 

Can we ever return to “united we stand”?

Some say different viewpoints pose our undoing, but conservative columnist George Will recently said, “If you don’t like to argue, you’re living in the wrong country.” Historically, debate has made our nation stronger and better.

Rather, I blame the rise of lies or “alternative facts” as the reason for Americans killing Americans.

For example, one proven fact is the 2020 election was fair and legal. But leaders who knew better cast doubt on votes, the ballot machines, the system itself. Attackers tried to stop the electoral vote process, ironically, thinking they were patriots.

The intentional spreading of false information made them believe the election was stolen. Some were prepared to hang “traitors.” Now the would-be killers are begging for pardons, and leaders who spread the lies are backpedaling, never imagining those they exhorted to “stop the steal” would rampage the Capitol.

Words have the power to set lives on fire.

We cannot unify when truth and “alternative facts” are given equal standing.

It wasn’t always this way. 

Back in 1949, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission issued the Fairness Doctrine that required broadcasting station licensees to present controversial issues of public importance in a honest, equitable, and balanced manner.  Ah, the days of four TV channels.

What happened? Later, cable and satellite stations were not covered under the policy, which gave rise to news outlets that catered strictly from one point of view. The Fairness Doctrine was revoked in 1987, citing that many venues existed for opposing opinions on numerous channels.

Here’s the rub. Nowadays people get their news often from one station, and rarely tune into another that features contrasting views. Likewise, social media algorithms bring viewers content customized to their personal convictions. Fold in inflammatory talk shows.

A journalist colleague, Dave Lieber, used to pass out buttons that read, “Ask a bunch of questions.” Those entrenched on positions rarely question anything, no matter how outlandish.

Seeing is believing.  The siege on the Capitol is the direct result of how lies, such as “the election was rigged,” has set our country on fire.

Going forward, look for facts, not fiery rhetoric posing as news. The time for “alternative facts” has to end. Give truthful information, not innuendo.  Stick to what has happened, not fearful speculation on what could happen. Ask a bunch of questions.

Only the truth shall set us free.

Column for The Patriot Ledger and for Gannett, 1/18/2021