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Truth and falsehood the new divide?

By Alan Austin - posted Monday, 3 September 2012

The media in the United States has responded with astonishing unanimity to last week's bizarre speech by Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Even Fox News – regarded as a cheer squad for the Republican Party – has a headline "Paul Ryan's speech in 3 words".

The three words, claims the article, are 'dazzling', 'deceiving' and 'distracting'.

Influential website Politiscoop then observed, "The bottom line is this: When Fox News fact checks you and calls you out for being a liar, then yes, your attempt at winning over America was an epic fail."


This has brought into high relief the split in the United States evident in Australia for some time – between those in public life who are regarded as truthful and those who are not.

Could this be the new political divide? Could this replace the old crnservative vs reformist? Left vs Right? Capitalist vs socialist?

Certainly left and right no longer have the meaning they once had. Malcolm Fraser was characterised as a right-wing extremist when he assumed power as Prime Minister of Australia in historic circumstances in 1975. He is now a doyen of the left with his outspoken criticisms of today's conservatism, on both sides of the Parliament, on Indigenous affairs, refugees and overseas aid. Fraser has actually not changed his position much at all.

In the US, recent Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have arguably been to the right of earlier Republicans such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald Ford.

Would it be a positive move in public life if truth vs falsehood did replace the old dichotomies?

A case can certainly be made that civic life is the poorer for having people in positions of power who routinely dissemble and lie. Especially when bolstered by influential media which repeat and amplify the fabrications.


The specific lies told by vice-presidential candidate Ryan in his speech at the Republican convention in Florida are listed in The Washington Post in the column headed "Paul Ryan's breathtakingly dishonest speech".

These follow claims that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is himself routinely economical with the truth. Alternative news outlet Mother Jones highlighted this with the article "Mitt Romney sure does lie a lot, doesn't he?"

Incumbent President Barack Obama, in contrast, is generally depicted as a politician who tells the truth. Will this distinction between the two sides be a factor with the voters in November? Time will tell.

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About the Author

Alan Austin is an Australian freelance journalist currently based in Nīmes in the South of France. His special interests are overseas development, Indigenous affairs and the interface between the religious communities and secular government. As a freelance writer, Alan has worked for many media outlets over the years and been published in most Australian newspapers. He worked for eight years with ABC Radio and Television’s religious broadcasts unit and seven years with World Vision. His most recent part-time appointment was with the Uniting Church magazine Crosslight.

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