Monday, September 8, 2014

Are "The Facts" And "The Truth" The Same Thing?

Posted By on Mon, Sep 8, 2014 at 12:00 PM

In a column in The Arizona Republic, EJ Montini makes a point that needs to be repeated every election season, just so people don't forget. You can use facts to distort the truth. Political campaigns do it all the time.

Montini is writing about the ad being run against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred DuVal stating that he voted to raise tuition at our state universities when he was on the Board of Regents. What a terrible guy, right? Why does he hate our kids?

The Republic fact-checked the ad and said it was true. Montini's response:

Was the ad factual? Yes. Was it true…? Ahhh, no.

Yes, DuVal and others on the board raised tuition. The legislature made big cuts in university funding. The Regents made up for the shortfall with tuition hikes. A pretty straight-forward cause — less funding — and effect — higher financial burden on students.

But the ad's just stating the facts, right? Doesn't that make it true? Montini nails the answer in his example of the difference between a selective presentation of facts and the truth of the matter.

Take this sentence, for example: In northern Arizona recently a 9-year-old girl wielding an Uzi shot and killed an unarmed man who was not threatening her.

If an accuracy-minded reporter were to run a "fact check" on that sentence it would receive a four-star rating for veracity, just like the Republican Governors ad bashing DuVal.

The facts included in the sentence are correct. But is it truthful?

Or would truth require us to mention the fact that the girl was at a shooting range with her parents? And that she had been firing an Uzi under an instructor's supervision? And that the weapon's recoil sent the Uzi flying over her head? In other words, it was a tragic accident.

Facts don't mean much without context.

Except in politics.

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