Back to Facts as Facts

Facts should be facts, not means to an end. Separating facts from opinions and advocacy is a step toward credibility.The saying "facts are facts" no longer seems to be widely accepted. For some, facts are merely bits of information, means to an end.

Russian President Vladmir Putin is the leading contemporary practitioner of the Big Lie. He has galvanized Russians against Ukraine by claiming the government in Kiev has been overrun by Russian-hating fascists. When a commercial passenger plane was shot down over the portion of Ukraine patrolled by Russian separatists, Putin speculated Kiev was responsible, not the Russian-supplied anti-aircraft artillery he sent to fight the fascists.

People who bend or spin the facts sometimes seem to get away with it. However, believing people are gullible – at least over the long haul – can be dangerous to your reputation. People have a habit of getting to the bottom of what's going on. The digital age has made it a lot harder to hide the truth – or another point of view.

The prevalence of tortured facts has reached the point that many people associate persuasion with spin. If you advocate something, you must have an angle, an ulterior motive.

Advocates or issue message managers have a purpose in mind. But it isn't automatically suspect just because it is advocacy.

The burden now falls on advocates to clean up their act. They need to find ways to establish and maintain credibility as part of their advocacy.

When I began my career in advocacy, I often was asked to state my opposition's case before stating my own. This provided for an intriguing test. How could you lay out what your opponent claimed while making your points seem stronger?

It didn't take long to realize the real test was your willingness to acknowledge the points on the other side of the debate and address them. The listener could evaluate the two points in juxtaposition and take your measure for integrity. I actually prevailed on a matter because the legislator involved said, "You made the case for your opponent better than he did. You clearly had thought more about the implications and as a result had the best arguments." That's a victory for credibility.

There can be reasonable disagreement over the meaning of facts, but facts should be facts, not opinions. And facts will more likely come across as true if the people spouting them are credible.