Antidote to Truthiness: Garrett Epps on Health-Care Lawsuits

By James Fallows

[See UPDATE below] One of the basic functions of journalism is to say: This is true, and that is false. There are other functions, but establishing bedrock "world is round / sun rises in the east / 1+ 1 = 2" verities is a big one.

In today's political environment, when so many simple facts are disputed, journalists can feel abashed about stating plainly what is true. With an anticipatory cringe about the angry letters they will receive or the hostile blog posts that will appear, they instead cover themselves by writing, "according to most scientists, the sun rises in the east, although critics say...."

To see "this is true" exposition done with gusto, please read this post today by Atlantic correspondent (and Constitutional-law professor, and novelist, and for the record my long-time friend) Garrett Epps. It's one thing for Stephen Colbert et al to joke about the new age of "truthiness," but it's something different to see a writer lay out, with facts and history, what the truth of an issue is. At this point, I'd often say something like, "Well, judge for yourself." And of course you should. But in this case, if you want to disagree with him, be ready with facts and history too.

UPDATE: While I'm at it, for discussion of a different topic with a similar no-nonsense approach, please consider this latest Stratfor analysis, by Scott Stewart. It is called "Separating Terror from Terrorism," and it concerns the best possible defense Western societies can mount against a terrorist threat.

I won't spoil the punchline -- and for readers of this magazine over the years it won't come as a complete surprise. But essentially it says that the public and political "sky is falling!" attitude toward terrorist threats over the past decade has been a huge force-multiplier -- for the terrorists. It discusses specific steps Americans could take to dampen rather than intensify terrorists' effects. Sample:

>>Terrorist attacks are also relatively easy to conduct, especially if the assailant is not concerned about escaping after the attack... Western governments simply do not have the resources to protect everything -- not even authoritarian police states can protect everything. This all means that some terrorist attacks will invariably succeed.

How the media, governments and populations respond to those successful strikes will shape the way that the attackers gauge their success. Obviously, the 9/11 attacks, which caused the United States to invade Afghanistan (and arguably Iraq) were far more successful than bin Laden and company could ever have hoped. The London bombings on July 7, 2005, where the British went back to work as usual the next day, were seen as less successful.<<

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/12/antidote-to-truthiness-garrett-epps-on-health-care-lawsuits/68712/