In My Own Words

By: RABBI RACHEL ESSERMAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR

If we like a politician, it’s all too easy to accept every word they say as the gospel. One of the most important things that journalists do is serve as fact-checkers – that is, make certain that statistics used are accurate and comparisons made are correct. This also means that politicians should carefully check their facts before making speeches or answering questions because, if one fact is wrong, it makes people doubt the other facts presented. I’m betting most people are thinking I’m speaking about President Donald Trump, but, while he is known for offering incorrect information, he is not the only person who isn’t carefully analyzing material. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), for instance, has also been criticized for making grand statements that aren’t supported by fact.
Ocasio-Cortez does seem like a breath of fresh air and most of the objections to her have been foolish. I mean, seriously, she danced in a video as part of a college project and people act like she’s done something immoral. She’s young, which, for some, is another strike against her. She’s also a self-declared democratic socialist and that scares the wits out of others. Ocasio-Cortez seems concerned about the working poor and others who usually have no voice in Congress, something I think is wonderful. However, that does not make her exempt from having her statements carefully checked by the press – the same press, by the way, that fact checks President Trump.
The Washington Post, the paper that once called President Trump’s figures on illegal immigration “nonsensical,” has disputed material offered in several of Ocasio-Cortez’ tweets. Their disagreements are not based on made-up figures, but rather on careful interpretations of material. Some of her tweets have received the Post’s “four Pinocchios” designation, although she nowhere matches the number the president has received. Ocasio-Cortez has been criticized for speaking incorrectly about “living and minimum wages” and about errors in transactions made by the Pentagon. She claims the Post is concerned about unimportant details, rather than her real point about misused funds that could be spent on health and education. I agree with her that we need to focus more on health and education, but that does not absolve her for using incorrect facts and figures.
Incorrect information and fake news travel quickly when they are shared on Twitter and Facebook. Some studies show that false statements are retweeted or shared faster than true stories, mostly because they are so outrageous people want to make certain everyone knows. We need to confirm a story or statement is true before passing it on. Politicians have the added responsibility to make certain that the information and interpretations they make public are correct. The facts do matter because without them we are ruled by cults of personality. Supporters of Ocasio-Cortez and Trump should do their own fact checking and not blindly follow them just because they like them. Politics of personality are wrong no matter which party or which side of an issue you support.