The dilemma with ‘alternative facts’


Anyone who considers themselves a fan of 1990s television knows it: The truth is out there. In 2017, however, the truth may be harder to find than it was for the “X-Files”’ Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

For the past 100 years, since President Woodrow Wilson held the first one in March of 1913, the presidential press conference has been at the very least, credible. If the White House press secretary refrained from saying much, the little they did say was of significant news value to the journalists in attendance.

In one of the first press briefings of the Trump administration, new White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer accused the news media of misinformation while distributing misinformation himself. After the briefing, Kellyanne Conaway, one of Trump’s senior advisors, described Spicer’s blatant lies by using a phrase that has become infamous in the days since: “alternative facts.”

For members of the news media covering the Trump administration going forward, reporting on a White House that disseminates these falsehoods poses multiple major issues.

Since the beginning of his campaign, Trump has fueled the narrative that the news media has an inherent bias against him. If the news media chooses to continue to report on his administration’s lies as they are, he will continue to use it as evidence that journalists are against him. By doing their jobs, journalists will unfortunately encourage his narrative and as it is, much of the public already considers the news media to be biased against the president.

The government collects and reports an incredible amount of data, ranging from mundane to critical. While journalists have had to verify and check government data before, for the most part, journalists have never been in a position where questioning and vetting every piece of information from the government was necessary. However, when the line between fact and “alternative fact” becomes blurred, news organizations may have to rely on their own resources more heavily than the government agencies that they relied on in the past.

As the “X-Files” told us, the truth is out there. Finding the truth while reporting on an administration that completely disregards it, however, may pose a greater challenge than expected.