When is an alternative fact a lie?

Let’s talk about this a little, because it’s a little more complicated than Sean Spicer attempting to mislead the public.

The WSJ recently made a splash in the news when they announced that they would not be describing the Trump administrations use of apparently less than factual statements as lies. I suspect that the New York Times will make an even bigger splash this morning when they use the L word about the newly elected President.

Here’s the thing: words matter here and so do intent.

A journalist can ascertain factuality in most cases, but intent is a hard creature to pin down. As Kellyanne would say, you have to look at what’s in President Trump’s heart. 

Why does it matter?

Because if a journalist or anyone else is going to attempt to be as fair and impartial as they can be, they need to choose their words carefully when reporting on factual errors. To use a political term, a professional writer of non-fiction needs to be conservative in their word selection.

The word lie contains an implicit value judgement. It means that not only did someone say something false, but they also knew it was false, and intended to be misleading. It is an inflammatory word, and using it should be considered carefully. Especially in the context of professional writing. 

There to indicate falsehood without indicating the intent. Pointing out factual errors as such can be done without the moral judgment that accompanies the word lie. In my opinion, journalists should use the word lie very seldom if ever.

That also means they don’t have to look into President Trump’s heart and decide if his intentions were pure. They can report on his words, and what they can determine that he did and said. 

Just the facts.

Is there video of him mocking a reporter at a rally? Yes.

Is there film of him calling Mexicans rapists? Yes.

Those are facts.

Facts are very powerful, although they don’t work very well with people who don’t care about them. Embellishment is not necessary.

Choose your words wisely, women and men of the press–we are counting on you to help us be an informed electorate.