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Implications of the Demise of “Fact” in Political Discourse

Jamieson_proceedings_2015In 2004, an aide to then-President George W. Bush smugly informed journalist Ron Suskind that the “reality based” community and the reporters within it had been rendered largely irrelevant by those like the informant who create their “own reality.” And “while you’re studying that reality,” the aide added, “we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” What follows is a tentative exploration of the implications of the sort of reality-creation the Bush aide touts. My focus on past fabrications assumes that understanding the conjurers’ wiles is an essential step in undercutting them. Two stratagems recur in the four cases I will outline: (1) transforming palatable deceptions into presumably powerful ads and (2) drowning any corrections offered by opponents or expert knowledge-certifying communities in a wash of manipulative messaging. These means of controlling the communication environment increase the likelihood that the so-called reality creators will be able to highjack the issue agenda, manipulate the contours of legislation, foreclose desirable policy options, and thwart the public will.


Kathleen Hall Jamieson