As usual, on the commute to work the other morning, I read The New York Times
. Suddenly, a leitmotif — a recurrent theme — began to emerge. The theme of the news was ... "truthiness."
Named the "word of the year"
for 2005 by the American Dialect Society, "truthiness" was coined by Stephen Colbert, host of the Colbert Report
, a satirical news show on Comedy Central. "Truthiness" refers to the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wants
to be true, rather than concepts or facts known
to be true.
Last Monday's edition of the Times
provided ample proof that truthiness has replaced facts as the currency of public discourse.
First, there's the Enron trial
. Kenneth Lay will probably claim that he didn't understand the most dubious of the financial arrangements made by Fastow and his associates. I guess he feels it's better to be perceived as incompetent, disengaged and overpaid than admit he made a mistake. Then last Thursday, The New York Times
headline summarized the first witness's testimony, an investor relations executive, as "Ex-executive says Enron Fudged Data to Try to Please Wall St."
Then, there’s the recent collapse of Refco
, the futures broker. Refco raised $583 million in an IPO and, two months later, announced that a company that owed it $430 million was controlled by its CEO. When it became clear that its financial statements were no longer reliable, Refco went bankrupt.
... And finally, there's the James Frey affair
. The author who essentially fabricated his life story in his purported autobiography, A Million Little Pieces
, was pilloried by Oprah Winfrey, on her live TV show last week.
When did truth become truthiness? Has the tidal wave of celebrity disinformation, corporate scandals and political corruption finally swamped those old-fashioned American values: "honesty," "truth" and "trust"?
People are playing fast and loose with the facts in an attempt to sound credible but, in reality, the most credible position is always the truth. Tell the truth! Take the facts and present them to the advantage of the organization you represent. But don't play with the facts and craft something that's not the truth ... just something you wish were true.
Truthiness. It's not a good thing.