The Trouble with Truth featuring Stan Katz and Sean Wilentz
“Truth” is now a quaint term in American (and many other) societies. It has frequently been remarked that we live in a “post-truth” age, one characterized by “fake news” and “alternative facts.” Scholars and news commentators now distinguish between “beliefs” and facts, and warn us that public opinion is guided more by belief than by fact. Some blame social media for creating a world in which there are no generally accepted signposts, but even long before the (recent) advent of social media, information technology provided each of us with his/her personal printing press. The hope was that access to plentiful and “free” information would produce a more open, creative and democratic world. But, for now at least, the opposite seems to be the case. Americans live in a world in which one of the two major political parties has as its platform a demonstrable lie – that its leader won the 2020 presidential election. What does a “lie” mean in this context? What is the “truth”? Does it matter? American constitutional lawyers used to argue that the answer to bad speech was more speech, but how does more speech matter in a post-truth age, or information in a disinformation age. We are in trouble, folks.
Professor Stanley Katz is joined by Sean Wilentz, George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History and Professor of History at Princeton University in this conversation.