It would be an important move to heal wounds and bring some understanding to the quest to know how to determine what is fake and what is real in the media if Joe Biden announced the establishment of a Truth Finding Commission.
The objective of the commission would be to determine whether certain pronouncements made through oral or written communications, are truthful.
The members of the commission would include:
- The chief justice of the Supreme Court,
- One individual appointed by the national committees of the Republican and Democratic Parties
- One individual appointed by leaders of the four major religions.
Aside from the chief justice no appointee shall be an elected official or someone occupying a state, local or federal government position.
The commission would be staffed with specialists having at their disposal the support of algorithms to be developed in the first instance to identify the most flagrant violations of truthfulness.
Fact verification would be undertaken each time a complaint is filed by any citizen claiming that a public oral or written assertion is
- Has been claimed to be untrue but is in fact true
The powers of the Commission would be limited. There can be no sanctions attached to untruths because the Constitution guarantees not only the right to bear arms but also the right to anyone to say anything he or she pleases (to the exclusion of defamation and other expressions that could lead to a present danger.)
Perpetrators of untruths consequently would not be subject to penalty, censor or limitations on the distribution of content. However the commission's findings would be published periodically and the media and social networks would be encouraged to qualify untruthful statements as having been judged as such by the commission and to signify when truthful statements are maligned as untrue.
Although government action traditionally has given rise to laws, regulations and orders that have the force of rule of law, that is to say that violations are punishable, this new approach is outside normal workings of government. It is a way to engender a strong sense of civic responsibility and to try and heal wounds that have been opened both by years of labeling some truths as fake news and by the proliferation of statements that are presented as true but which are not.
The limited powers of the commission would mean that the standard for determinations, to be based on official documentation and in some instances consultation with university specialists, would not be proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but reasonable preponderance of the evidence.
President Biden can be imagined making the following preliminary statement to explain the reason why setting up this commission is a priority matter.
"Among the basic tenets that establish, maintain and assure the confidence of any democratic society is reliance on knowing the difference between truth and falsehoods. There are far too many examples of falsehoods that are promoted as facts, a phenomenon detrimental to a healthy democratic society."
When questions might be were raised concerning the importance of taking this initiative especially so early in the new president's term of office, Mr. Biden's press secretary could give examples of problems created by confusion about what is true and what is not.
The very first example is the importance in a democratic society to know which candidate for each elected office won the elections! The degree of confusion as to what is true and what is false has even spilled over into the realm of science, where commission decisions will be made all the more easily because science is, after all, science!
An extreme, even slightly absurd example is the pronouncement made by the Earth is Flat Society founded in 1956 by the Englishman Samuel Shenton that the earth is flat. Now, this may not have great significance except it has been brought to our attention that there are several airline pilots who are members of the society. If their navigation is based on a flat earth, normal flight from New York to London the plane could land at some particular point on the Arctic circle. Of course, a problem for those wearing only rain coats and carrying only umbrellas, but much more importantly the landing site may be ill equipped with either an adequate shelter for the extreme weather in this parts or refueling capacity.
All absurd examples aside, it is important to highlight that the activity of the Truth Finding Commission cannot pretend to remove the exhausting back-and-forth polemical energy wasted on trying to rebut obviously bad faith pretenders of one thing or another. This being said even a modest improvement in the discussion and even a modest reduction in bad faith pretensions will be a positive step forward.
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