“Factuality is authority.” Colin Gunton, A Brief Theology of Revelation
This sentence appears in the second of its’ author’s seven 1993 Warfield Lectures, and when I read it I immediately connected it to my growing unease with the fact-checking media complex in 2020.
We are living through the ascendancy of motivated reasoning, and though we’re all engaging that vice, some of us are swallowing worse fibs than others. And fact checking isn’t helping.
I’ll wager that part of fact checking’s fecklessness owes to the motivation of the reasoning. A cultivated regard for “the media” as an elite enemy among a massive segment of the population has established the flouting of fact claims by that institutions as an end in itself. And fact checking is a media function. There is a perceived superiority, even arrogance, in the claim to possess the definitive account of where a Presidential candidate was born or of a Senator’s voting record. Who told you it was your job to check facts on our behalf?
Perhaps the checking part of fact checking is the problem. The presumption it implies feeds motivated reasoning against it. And when I share a fact checking article with someone, I’m extending myself as an agent of that presumption in a way that is almost certainly bound to be rejected.
The medium is probably still the message, and I’m starting to think that the message carried by the medium of fact checking might be too condescending to be useful.