Frank Rich on Truthiness, Intellectual Nihilism and the Decline of Journalism

This is an exceptionally good article in the New York Magazine by the always good Frank Rich. It’s a summing-up not just of the election, but of what has become of truth and what has become of journalism in this modern post-fact era of “truthiness.”

After allowing as how all politicians lie, he focuses primarily on those who have excelled at it in this current election season (guess who), and what it bodes for us all that ambitious politicians unhinged from reality can garner such exceptional levels of support (be afraid, be very afraid).

Personally (and Rich doesn’t say this, I do) I mark the beginning of the greatly accelerating decline of truth in our modern political age at the 1976 election campaign of Ronald Reagan, whose aw-gee-shucks folksy tales of welfare queens and jelly beans seized the hearts and minds of his earnest followers. In his zeal to preach the gospel that government is the only problem, Reagan taught the modern GOP that truth is irrelevant.

Frank Rich

Denial has poisoned the GOP and threatens the rest of the country too.

Mitt Romney is already slithering into the mists of history, or at least La Jolla, gone and soon to be forgotten. A weightless figure unloved and distrusted by even his own supporters, he was always destined, win or lose, to be a transitory front man for a radical-right GOP intent on barreling full-speed down the Randian path laid out by its true 2012 standard-bearer, Paul Ryan. But as was said of another unsuccessful salesman who worked the New England territory, attention must be paid to Mitt as the door slams behind him in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s brilliant victory. Though Romney leaves no political heirs in his own party or elsewhere, he does leave a cultural legacy of sorts. He raised Truthiness to a level of chutzpah beyond Stephen Colbert’s fertile imagination, and on the grandest scale. That a presidential hopeful so cavalierly mendacious could get so close to the White House, winning some 48 percent of the popular vote, is no small accomplishment. The American weakness that Romney both apotheosized and exploited in achieving this feat—our post-fact syndrome where anyone on the public stage can make up anything and usually get away with it—won’t disappear with him. A slicker liar could have won, and still might.


But that’s the Republicans’ plight. The country has a larger problem—“intellectual nihilism,” as the writer Noam Scheiber recently labeled it. Since 9/11, often but not always under the right’s aegis, truth has been destabilized in America. The Bush administration’s contempt for what it dismissed as the “reality-based community” was vindicated when it successfully ginned up a war by convincing Americans that the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis and that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Our susceptibility to elaborate, beautifully wrought myths remains intact—whether we’re being spun by politicians, captains of finance pumping up a bubble, or sports heroes like Lance Armstrong and Joe Paterno. The news business, which we once counted on to vet hoaxes and fictions, is now so insecure about its existential future that it was cowed to some extent by the Scarboroughs, Noonans, and Roves, with most of the networks, not just Fox, ignoring the statistical data of Silver and others and instead predicting a long, nail-biting election night. (In reality, the election was called for Obama at 11:12 p.m. EST on NBC, just twelve minutes after it had been in 2008.) Our remaining journalistic institutions have even outsourced what used to be the very definition of their craft, fact-checking, to surrogates relegated to gimmicky sidebars (awarding Pinocchios and “pants on fire”). The fact-checkers have predictably become partisan targets, only further destabilizing the whole notion of what is meant by “news.”

Read the full article here.

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6 Responses to “Frank Rich on Truthiness, Intellectual Nihilism and the Decline of Journalism”
  1. RL Crabb says:

    Glad to know that only Democrats wield the truth, even if they’re a little tardy relaying it to the public. “Oh, by the way, the Director of the CIA was having an affair. The FBI knew about it, but we were just so darn busy getting elected that we forgot to mention it until now.” Can’t wait to see how MSNBC spins this one!

  2. depelton says:

    RL, a little petulant, eh? Must be the election hangover.

    Notice Rich acknowledges that lying is bipartisan, then zeroes in on the recent masters of the art.

    His article isn’t about the Democratic Party and its sins, which are legion (his single reference to the Democratic Party was to it as the lucky beneficiary this year of the GOP’S self-delusion):

    “The good news for Democrats this year was that the right’s brand of magical thinking (or non-thinking) bit the GOP in the ass … “

    His article is about Turdblossom (aka Bush’s Brain) and his cohorts.

    I love the irony of how Big SuperPAC Money, which was supposed to crush the Democrats this year, actually financed the further right-wing radicalism of the GOP, which continues to march lemming-like in the direction of the cliff.

    Rove’s big donors are now pissed at him and want refunds. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

  3. RL Crabb says:

    As you know, Don, I am not shy about taking both parties to task for bending the truth, or in the case of most Eastern Establishment Media, just ignoring it. As a media critic, I watch an unhealthy amount of cable news, mostly Fox and MSNBC, because they have both become so adept at manipulating facts to fit their own agenda. When it comes to BS, it smells the same whether it comes out of Hannity’s mouth or Ed Schultz’s mouth. We’ve already seen what it’s done to the Republicans, the Dems are just as vulnerable if they start believing their own mouthpieces.

  4. The last ditch attempt to save a lost election by pumping Benghazi up (despite the fact that the Republicans voted down funding for security abroad) when the 1% has raided this country’s poor, working and middle classes for every cent they can get, is absurd. Now the latest minor scandal is going to go to the same level, when Republicans have been cheating on their wives and tap dancing in bathroom stalls the whole decade is just plain silly, Earl. If the Republicans would rather destroy this country than seek middle ground, so be it, but don’t kid yourself about the priorities here, The New Feudalism is every bit as unfair as the old Feudalism, and the rise of OWS proves that.

    I strongly recommend watching this entire video, but if nothing else, be sure to watch 6:00 minutes through 8:00 minutes, and then think about what is going on at Raley’s.

    As those on the cheated and exploited end, get pushed further down the scale, their kids, in reaction, turn our schools into pre-prison Big Yards, and further retard the development of an educated population the Republican claim to want.

  5. Don Pelton says:

    RL, again thanks for your comment.

    I do appreciate that you call out each party as you see it, without — apparently — fear or favor.

    But when your first comment in response to Rich’s article was “Glad to know that only Democrats wield the truth … ,” it seemed to me that you were strongly implying that Rich was pumping out some stereotypical highly-partisan Democratic meme.

    Rich doesn’t work for MSNBC or Fox, and was speaking from a higher perch in this case.

    If he seems partisan to you, I suspect it’s due to Colbert’s well-demonstrated dictum that “reality has a liberal bias.”

  6. depelton says:


    Thanks for your good rant.

    The two-minute segment on the Border Collie and (I think) Australian Shepherd’s innate sense of fairness is wonderful. I will watch the whole program as soon as I get time.

    Another hilarious example of the same point is made by Frans de Waal in the following experiment done with Capuchin monkeys:

    And Professor Richard Wilkinson, who has done extensive research on the way in which pervasive inequality (unfairness) correlates highly with myriad pathologies in a society, explains his work in the following TED Talk:

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