Truth, Justice, and The American Way

A former journalist, Yossi Halevi, recently said that, during his career,  the overriding objective of journalism has shifted from truth to justice.  The difference being that truth is supposed to be objective while justice, specifically social justice, is most decidedly subjective.

Moreover, one’s stand on “justice” depends on where one sits.  If I am an anti-vaxxer, then justice is that the hospital I am admitted to spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to save my life.  If you are me, anti-vaxxers should gain admission for COVID-related issues if and only if there are no other patients competing for those beds.  Call me callous and cruel, but to me, that is justice.

My personal take on justice (and yours as well) is relatively unimportant.  But when the entire fourth estate swings to subjective reporting, tailoring reality to fit their political agenda, it becomes dangerous.  This is not new.  Henry Ford published The Dearborn Independent, an antisemitic rag focused on blaming Jews for all the problems in the world.  At one time The Independent had the second largest circulation of any newspaper in the United States.  William Randolph Hearst’s and Joseph Pulitzer’s newspapers led the charge in exhorting America to go to war with Spain over the alleged sinking of the USS Maine.  Robert “Colonel” McCormick, owner and publisher of the Chicago Tribunewas an America First believer who actively campaigned for isolationism and attacked FDR for even considering entering WWII. Time Magazine said of McCormick, “the Tribune has been made into a worldwide symbol of reaction, isolation, and prejudice by a man capable of real hate.”

What is new is television, social media, and a 24-hour news cycle and political “commentary” as entertainment cycle (politainment??) which spew opinion as facts; skew or omit information that does not fit the narrative; and promote downright misrepresentation and misinformation. And all of this is tolerated as a First Amendment right.  Exacerbating the impact of these technological changes was the 1987 elimination of the “fairness doctrine,” an FCC policy that required broadcasters to give equal time to differing viewpoints on a political issue. Coupled with the growth of the internet, an explosion of quasi-news institutions like Fox News, MSNBC, The Grunge Report, OAN, The Huffington Post, and the like, not to mention the impact of such “journalists” as Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Ed Shultz, and Alex Jones, and voila – here we are.  Long gone are the days of the “trusted news source” and “Uncle Walter” Cronkite.  Today’s “news” is anything but ‘fair and balanced.’  

I submit we are not better off with social media and the lack of the fairness doctrine.  Unlike print journalism, television, radio, and the internet all use public goods to disseminate their deeply unbalanced material.  The American people deserve better.

All of this – the misinformation, the lack of balance, the endless echo-chamber of social media –  make us less intelligent, less able to think critically, and less willing and able to have civil discussions about our differences.  How else did a public health calamity become a political issue?  That did not happen with the smallpox or polio vaccines, or vaccines protecting us against mumps, whooping cough, measles.  The only two movements against vaccination have been political – the first by opponents of the HPV vaccine  who believe that protection against a sexually transmitted disease promotes sexual activity and now, resistance to COVID vaccinations (and other methods of mitigation) by those who refuse to believe scientific facts, preferring to follow vacuous political leaders. Anti-vaxxers make it clear to the rest of us that our lives and well-being are worth less than their political views and their twisted concept of “freedom.” 

I wonder what percentage of current living anti-vaxxers and anti-mask advocates have been vaccinated for polio (or any of the others mentioned above).  Or wear a seat belt, or carry a driver’s license, or obtain a building permit, or license their dog or bicycle?  All of the above “restrictions on freedom” are just as onerous as COVID vaccinations and mask mandates. Seriously – when was the last time you heard about a protest against drunk driving laws?

I am reminded of the stupidity surrounding motorcycle helmet laws, fought over the same nonsensical concept of “freedom.”  Successful in defeating helmets laws in many states, the anti-helmet crowd, when injured and uninsured, still expects the rest of us to bear the cost of their medical treatment .  I was in the retail motorcycle business for a few years.  Do you know what we called motorcycle riders without helmets?  Organ donors.

Prohibitionist orators had a favorite adage about individual freedom, repeated in 1887 by Temperance lecturer Major Camp: “I have no right to throw my arms out in a crowd, for I might hit somebody on the nose.  My right stops where his nose begins.  I have no right to drink if my drinking injures others.”

Camp and his Temperance colleagues were  and still are right.  In essence,  you have no right to burden me with the cost of your bad decisions nor put my health or well-being in danger by your lack of action.

As a nation, we have a considerable minority that have either forgotten or dismissed this.  The reality that opinion has become “fact” is ultimately quite dangerous as is the belief that my “independence” has no responsibility to the common good.

We are not better off.  And that, my friends, is a tragedy.

Which brings us back to Truth, Justice, and the American Way.  Truth and justice are different and both important.  Justice is a core value of most, if not all  religions*.  In all of these religions, justice is relational.  It is about insuring societal calm amongst groups and individuals.  It is about fairness and the Golden Rule.  Truth must be a key element of democracy if it is to continue.  Pandering to falsehoods leads to authoritarianism and ultimately, chaos. Truth is absolute. Truth is about the facts and while “everyone is entitled to their own opinion; they are not entitled to their own facts.”** 

These definitions are not currently “The American Way.”  Perhaps that is why the Superman comics have changed the expression to Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow.  From their lips to God’s ears.

* Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.  Deuteronomy 16:20

* He will proclaim justice to the nations.  A battered reed he will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out, until He leads justice to victory.  Mathew 12:18

* Stand up firmly for justice, as a witness to God, even as against yourselves or your parents or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor.  Surah 4:135

* Tolerating injustice is a bigger crime than doing injustice.   Bhagavad-Gita

**  Daniel Patrick Moynihan, former US Senator

2 thoughts on “Truth, Justice, and The American Way

  1. Hi Dan,
    I always enjoy reading Adult Language even though I may have a different opinion. I like hearing different perspectives.
    I want to say a few things regarding your antivax comments.
    First of all, I am fully vaxed and boosted.
    Second, not all people who haven’t gotten the vaccine are doing it for political reasons. Most people that I know have been fully vaccinated. Those that have not, their reasons have absolutely nothing to do with politics. Please be careful putting people into one bucket.
    Third, your comment on unvaxed people not deserving treatment disturbed me. As you know I am a retired registered nurse. So I guess if you are a smoker you shouldn’t get treated for lung cancer, if you are obese you shouldn’t get treated for heart disease or diabetes. If you are an alcoholic you shouldn’t get treated for pancreatitis or liver disease. Should we not treat drug addicts because they brought this on themselves? All of these personal choices have consequences that effect not just them, but the health care system and society in general. It is hard not to judge people who make bad choices, but we all make unhealthy choices in life. I would prefer that society be compassionate and kind to their fellow human beings regardless.

    1. You make a good point. Sometimes, yes, I resort to hyperbole and fire for effect. In this case, that is only partially true. The reality is that society does end up paying for our individual bad decisions, and many of those bad decisions drive bad outcomes. I do believe insurance pricing can and probably does reflect some bad decisions like smoking, obesity and otherwise preventable triggers for bad outcomes. But when it comes to folks who not only pursue bad decisions like no vaccination and continue to decide to have no insurance (because now everybody can be insured), then I have a lot less sympathy. In the case of vaccinations, like drunk driving and second hand smoke, it is not only the individual making the bad decision but also the inherent risk to others that makes my blood boil. Obesity hurts the obese individual. Anti-Vaxxers hurt all of us.

      Further, I am most willing to bet that the vast majority of anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers (like some 45% of the nation at this point) are not allergic, are not claiming a religious objection (and by the way, what would that be?) but quite frankly are indeed making a political statement – so I don’t disagree that “not all” are doing it for political reasons, but am sufficiently confident that the majority are indeed doing just that. Drug addiction is a disease, smoking is addictive, non-glandular obesity is usually accompanied by other factors, including chemical imbalances, depression, and other treatable factors.

      However, volunteering not to be vaccinated is most often a political statement. Alcoholics are routinely denied access to liver transplants, and heart/lung transplant candidates are screened on healthcare factors – smokers and the obese are much less likely to be accepted as heart transplant candidates. So, yes, there is already a price paid for those bad decisions. It may not be as draconian as my hyperbolic statement, but at least there is a price paid for those bad decisions.

      Believing that most or even a considerable minority of anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers have valid reasons (healthcare reasons) for their stance is to excuse the reality that most of this anti-vaxx effort, like the anti-fluoride efforts of earlier times, is anti-science, taking libertarianism to the extreme, and harmful to other members of society. And, although some of them may pay the ultimate price by failing to be vaccinated, there is no penalty for infecting others, impairing someone else’s health or even promoting someone else’s death. I want to treat anti-vaxxers infecting others as we treat those who knowingly infect someone with an STD or AIDS without warning. It is illegal and there is a price to be paid for that decision.

      I will apologize for making this point in black and white, with no gray area because of course there is a gray area and I ignored that to have an impact. I will not however, apologize for wanting people who voluntarily put me, my family, my friends, and my community at risk because of their suspect views on individual liberty and political appropriateness to pay a price for the danger in which they put others.

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