Fact, Fiction or Alternative Fact


Mark Twain, an American storyteller, journalist, essayist and pundit said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” According to the American Press Institute, “Creating a good story means finding and verifying important or interesting information and then presenting it in a way that engages the audience.”


The recent presidential campaign has been nothing but engaging audiences with good stories.  What could be more engaging than debating that size matters. The campaign started out debating the size of a candidate’s hand all the while alluding to his manliness.  It would not be unseemly then to begin the new presidency with a debate on the size of an inauguration crowd. The question most Americans really want to know is: So now who has the bigger crowd? This time there is no debate — we have pictures!

USA Today

The media says not so big.  Others say it was huge. Never let a few facts get in the way (even if its thirty or forty thousand people). It is obvious that the president’s press secretary is not concerned. He said “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” And a new term is buzzing around: alternative facts.

Uh? The English Oxford Living Dictionaries say a fact is “a thing that is known or proved to be true.” Gravity is a fact: What goes up must come down. There is no gray area between the leap and sudden impact to be debated.

Maybe the alternative fact is the speed at which an object falls. The speed of a falling object can depend on the rotation of the Earth, the mass of the object and altitude. Maybe there is an  Equatorial Bulge factor to consider when estimating the size of a crowd in Washington D.C. on a particular day that can skew the numbers.

However, using the logic that it is possible to debate the speed of a falling man, while he is falling, one might be able to agree then that something that is blatantly false or untrue is not necessarily a lie. But at what point does a falsity become a lie?  And if it becomes a lie then what kind of lie is it? Is it one of omission or commission?  Is it a little white lie or a bold face lie?  And then it comes down to who is telling the lie and even the intent of the lie.  Is it coming from your investment broker on the merits of your investment portfolio? Is the lie coming from a goal oriented sociopathic liar; a compulsive liar who lies out of habit; or the twice-bitten husband telling his wife her hair looks good?

And then there is the “big lie. The whopper that no one questions because it has just enough plausibility, embarrassment and is so outrageous that it has to be true: like NASA faked all the moon landings and they were a Disney production shot on a Hollywood back lot with a young George Lucas watching.




Nazi Germany knew something about lies, particularly the “Big Lie.” Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister for public enlightenment and propaganda wrote:

Reich Chancellor Joseph Goebbels

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”



The Economist says the world has “entered an era of ‘post-truth politics’.” Maybe we have moved back to schoolyard days of “liar, liar pants are on fire, nose is long as a telephone wire.” But then who uses a land line anymore.

According to The Economist, “There is a strong case that, in America and elsewhere, there is a shift towards a politics in which feelings trump facts.”  With new technology, social media, fake news and false assertions now fly through cyber space at warp speed. Today there are fewer traditional editors and gatekeepers available to verify and fact check the onslaught of information. We live in a time when any tweeter or wiki-leaker can set thousands of pants on fire with the simple word “send.”

A Jackalope that did not get away.

It is much easier for lie to be tweeted than spoken face-to-face.  Words lack the changing and shifting body language, the lack of eye contact, the beads of sweat on the forehead or the change in pitch of the voice as those words are spoken.


With an untrusting public being bombarded with facts and fiction The Economist says, “some politicians are getting away with a new depth and pervasiveness of falsehood. If this continues, the power of truth as a tool for solving society’s problems could be lastingly reduced.”


The lunatic fringe has always been out there. They have been like a pack of ravenous wolves circling the herd. Now they are attacking at the core of truth. The fringes are now among the herd and have turned opinion into fact and feelings into reason. Once the fringe runs down the truth; the truth can then be separated into alternative facts and disseminated for mass consumption.

Churchill outside the  Reichstag after the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945.

Winston Churchill, as the war-time Prime Minister of Great Britain, knew something about dealing with the “big liars” of World War II.  He said:  The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.


Hacking, Cooping, Ratfucking and a Quasi War

When it comes to the alleged Russian hacking of the Democratic Party the question is not did the Russians hack the Democratic Party during the election. The real question is more why wouldn’t they hack.

The County Election, 1852 by George Caleb Bingham

Disrupting elections is an American tradition. Why have states been babbling on about voter fraud and passing laws for tougher voter identification? Candidates and their backers have been trying to game the outcome of elections in this country since the first wagon loaded with barrels of hard apple cider was served up gratis for showing up at the polls. There was nothing wrong with Election Day liquor so long as it was not served up by a foreign power.

In the 1840s Baltimore political gangs took election canvassing to newer heights that went beyond stealing election ballots, bribing judges and outright voter intimidation. There was the practice called “cooping.”  “Potential voters” were swept up and steered to a local tavern where they were sequestered and plied with booze until Election Day.  Then they were paraded from one polling place to another polling place to vote.  In some cases the inebriated sots where taken back for a quick change of clothes as a change of identity so they could vote again thus giving true meaning to voting early and often.

The tale to tell is what happened to Poe on Election Day.

There has been speculation that the mysterious death of America’s first detective writer, Edgar Allan Poe, was shrouded in such voter fraud.  Four days before his death Poe was found on Election Day, in what was believed to be a drunken state, outside of Ryan’s 4th Ward Poll watering hole, a tavern known as Gunner’s Hall.  Some Poephiles believe Poe, who was already in poor health, was dragooned into one of these gang-related Election Day cooping efforts.  Once he had fulfilled his civic duty he was cast out on to the street. But these efforts, although coordinated to affect the election’s outcome, were not perpetuated through a foreign power.


Most American high-schoolers are familiar with the New York City machine The Tweed Ring. William Tweed managed to take control of New York City politics. It was estimated in 1877 that Tweed had stolen between $25 million to $45 million from New York City.  The “Boss” ran a Big City Machine that controlled the loyalty of the voters through graft, jobs, and city projects.

Votes go up graft comes down.

Just about every big city has had some sort of machine.  Kansas City had Thomas Pendergast.  Pendergast was the Chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Party. In the latter half of 1920s and through the ‘30s he was able to get friendly politicians elected to office. In fact one friend made it as far as the US Senate and then on to the Oval Office: Harry Truman.  Before his ascent to the presidency Truman was known as the Senator from the State of Pendergast. But both Tweed and Pendergast’s penchant for skirting the law led to convictions.  Tweed was convicted on 204 counts of corruption and Pendergast for income tax evasion. Both served time.

In more recent times we can see that the 2016 election between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton was close. Clinton received around two million more popular votes than her opponent.  However, her margin of popular vote was a Whopper with fries compared to John F. Kennedy’s 1960 victory.  Richard Nixon lost the popular vote to John Kennedy by a .17% margin or just fewer than 114,000 votes. In most states the margins were as thick as a spider’s web. After the election there was speculation that the Cook Country Democratic boss, Richard Daley, served up the presidency to Kennedy with an overwhelming Democratic vote tally.

Does the name Donald Segretti ring a bell, probably not?  He was one of many of President Richard Nixon’s dirty tricksters – or a ratfucker. In a time before hacking and the social media platforms of Twitter, Facebook and email, dirty tricksters would use the letter heads of political opponents. Once the letter head was acquired then fraudulent statements or “fake news” could be circulated. There were various fake letters circulated from one Democrat accusing another Democratic candidate of having sexual affairs and children with teenagers to being mentally unbalanced. This was just the beginning of the Watergate scandal that would soon turn the word “gate” into a suffix for any major scandal. Most recently Deflategate where New England Patriot quarterback was accused of tampering with the air pressure in footballs used in a championship game.


The most famous of these letters was the Canuck Letter.  This was a forged letter from the Nixon Campaign that appeared in the Manchester Union Leader newspaper two weeks before the New Hampshire presidential primary election.  The letter attributed disparaging remarks about French-Canadians to Democratic candidate Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine. The letter and the ensuing events, with Muskie accused of crying during a speech before the Manchester Union Leader building in a driving snow storm, led some to believe that the letter sunk Muskie’s hopes for a run for the presidency in 1972.


There was at least one time when foreign diplomats openly tried to influence American public opinion. It was in the turbulent times of the new republic after the Revolutionary War.  Events in France led to the Reign of Terror and the beheading of Louis XVI and his wife.  Before long the newly formed French Republic was at war with every European

Pierre Adet

monarchy – and urging its fellow republic, the United States, to join in.  France, using the 1778 Treaty of Alliance as leverage, tried to enlist American support for France’s war against Great Britain. French diplomats like Edmond Genet and Pierre Adet began to outfit privateers in American ports to attack British shipping. They tried to enlist Americans to their cause to invade Spanish territories and even possibly Canada.


Prior to the 1796 election Adet wrote several letters trying to influence public opinion. In one letter he indicated that if Thomas Jefferson was not elected president there could be war with France. He also leaked terms of the recently negotiated Jay treaty with Great Britain that was up for ratification in the Senate and tried to influence the Senate’s vote. In one letter Adet said that this treaty indicated that America was no longer a neutral country.

President Washington was trying to guide the young country to neutral waters despite the strong sentiments for France, particularly among members of Jefferson’s newly founded Republican Party.  This was a time of sharp partisan politics as Federalists and Alexander Hamilton leaned towards England. The two parties clashed in Congress over many issues.


Despite Adet’s meddling, John Adams won the 1796 election and America eventually fought an undeclared war called the Quasi War with France.  It was also a time when Federalists in Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Alien Act gave the government new powers to deport foreigners.  It also increased the residency requirements.  Immigrants were eligible to vote after five years of residency but the new law increased residency  for new immigrants to 14 years.

The Sedition Act was aimed more at budding growth of partisan newspapers, particularly Republican newspapers.  The Act basically prohibited public opposition to the government. Those who “write, print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous and malicious writing” against the government could  and did face fines and imprisonment.  More than 20 Republican editors of newspapers were arrested with some being jailed.  The law was later repealed during Jefferson’s first administration.


Getting back to Russian hacking, why not? American elections are an invitation for influence peddling and meddling, mudslinging, and misstatements. Now some 400 pound man in New Jersey can affect the presidency from his bed, only getting up for a bag of Doritos and a Mountain Dew.


See All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward https://books.google.com/books?id=6MYYI_LNfWsC&pg=PA137&lpg=PA137&dq=canuck+letter&source=bl&ots=10tTA_hwCe&sig=jUax5YntQMQI0uo-AE-zk0nHgls&hl=en&sa=X&sqi=2&pjf=1&ved=0ahUKEwiG-_SS0LDRAhVGWCYKHd1cA70Q6AEIeTAT#v=onepage&q=canuck%20letter&f=false