We will do everything possible to tell the truth
— and call out the lies
America has always had a few left and right extremists who have propounded conspiracy theories and put out implausible and obviously false information.
Then came President Donald Trump with a dizzying display of calling the truth “fake news” and presenting lies as truth.
No wonder Michael Cohen, who worked for the Trump Organization as Trump’s “fixer” for 10 years, recently said that if you wanted to know whether Donald Trump was lying, you need to ask one question: “Is his mouth moving?”
Two of President Trump’s favorite words are “hoax” and “rigged.” If he doesn’t like something, he calls it a hoax. But he never identifies the specific individuals who perpetrated the hoax. And if an official action is not going his way, the action is “rigged,” although he never specifies who rigged it.
A couple of examples: Trump said the coronavirus was a “hoax” perpetrated by “the Democrats.” And because mail-in voting increases participation, which results in voting by the broad base of politically moderate Americans who don’t support Trump, he says elections such as we have in Utah, where ballots are mailed to all active registered voters, are “rigged.” Both statements are lies.
We at the Sanpete Messenger can’t do anything about Donald Trump. But we can call out lies told in public settings in our own back yard. And we’ve heard an earful lately.
Last week, a “freedom rally” opposing mask wearing was held at the Manti City Park. It attracted 250 people, a substantial crowd for a protest in Sanpete County. The main organizers and speakers were from outside the county. And as our reporter circulated among the crowd, he found people had a variety of opinions. Many of the opinions differed from what was being said from the podium.
One theme among speakers was that a statewide directive asking people to wear masks in public, and emergency orders from the Salt Lake County mayor, Salt Lake City mayor, and the Utah County Health Department requiring people to wear masks, were unconstitutional actions.
Wrong. The 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
That includes all kinds of “police powers,” powers residing with state and local governments to limit private rights for the public good. The legal idea of police power came from English common law and was universally adopted in colonial America. Today, it is the basis for everything from traffic rules to local zoning and, yes, emergency orders to protect public health.
Mask orders are an exercise by state and local governments of powers the Constitution says state and local governments have a right and, yes, a duty to exercise.
One of the speakers at the rally, YouTube personality Tyce Chamberlain warned against “FEAR,” which stands for “false evidence appearing real.” He also said “NEWS” stands for “nothing ever worth sharing.”
The assault on conscientious journalism is one of the most frustrating phenomena in our public discourse these days. Around the country, including here in Sanpete County, are thousands of journalists who attend meetings, interview elected officials, interview specialists in government agencies, go to scenes ranging from immigrant detention camps to public protests, and report what they see, hear and learn.
They are bound by a host of written and traditional ethical standards, such attributing statements to sources; getting corroboration from more than one source for any statement that they are forced to run without attribution; separating news from opinion and labeling the opinion as such; and even declining meals, travel or other benefits from people and organizations they are covering.
If you want the truth, read the Sanpete Messenger, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Watch your three Salt Lake City television channels. Watch C-SPAN, the PBS News Hour, the major broadcast networks, and the straight-news segments on CNN, MSNBC and even Fox.
If you want lies, believe what you read on social media or extremist websites where writers do no first-hand fact gathering and have no ethical standards. Examples range from the sick Qanon claim that a “deep state” has been infiltrated by pedophiles and cannibals to a cruel conspiracy theory that Bill and Hillary Clinton have had people assassinated.
Thank heavens Facebook and Twitter are starting to grow journalistic spines, putting a “false” label over the worst of the lies, and deleting some threats against people and institutions.
One of the people the Messenger interviewed at the mask rally claimed wearing masks caused staph and sinus inflections. That’s false on its face. If this were true, thousands of surgeons, surgical nurses and other health workers who wear masks all day every work day would be chronically ill.
The same person claimed “kids can’t spread the virus.” That’s outdated information. When the coronavirus first came up in China, it appeared children didn’t get it. Since then, scientists have learned that kids can carry high loads of the virus, can be asymptomatic carriers and in relatively rare case become very ill.
One of the most definitive studies was recently completed right in Salt Lake City. The study was sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and looked at outbreaks among children 10 and younger at child care centers between April 1 and July 1.
During that time, 12 children at two of the centers studied tested positive for the virus. Three of the 12 were asymptomatic. The other nine had mild symptoms. The 12 kids that had the virus transmitted it to 12 people outside their centers, including one parent who had to be hospitalized.
At another recent public event, a hearing on a zoning ordinance in Manti, at least three speakers, who had other supporters in the audience, claimed some of the language in the draft ordinance came from Agenda 21, a United Nations statement urging world cooperation in protecting the environment.
One speaker claimed, “The verbiage that’s found in these things are blatantly found in documents the U.N. produces to try to basically have a one-world government.”
Another speaker said, “Who wrote this?” He then attributed the language of the ordinance, including sections that talked about broadening the range of affordable housing options and sustainability to BYU. “This is talk that came from BYU because BYU is thoroughly U.N. and when they came here, I’m sure that’s what they had in mind,” the speaker said.
In fact, several years ago, Manti City contracted with the Urban Planning Department at BYU to help write its general plan. Later, the same professor who supervised students in preparing the general plan, this time working as a private consultant and not under the aegis of BYU, wrote the draft of the ordinance that was discussed at the public hearing.
Was the professor secretly directed by the United Nations? Was he pulling language for his draft from Agenda 21? Certainly not. What is Agenda 21anyway?
Agenda 21 is a document that was issued in 1992 at the conclusion of a United Nations conference on the environment and signed by 177 nations. President George H.W. Bush signed for the United States.
If the goal of the Agenda 21 was to create a one-world government, the United Nations hasn’t gotten very far in 28 years.
Not enough had been done to debunk the far-right conspiracy theory about Agenda 21. We at the Messenger are doing our part today.
The best statement we found stating the truth about Agenda 21 was on the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) website, which says, “Agenda 21 is not a treaty. It has no force of law, no enforcement mechanisms, no penalties, and no significant funding.
“It is not even a top-down recommendation, seeking instead to encourage communities around the world to come up with their own solutions to overpopulation, pollution, poverty and resource depletion. It is a feel-good guide that cannot force anyone, anywhere, to do anything at all.
“It’s time to finally call out the conspiracy theorists,” the SPLC said.“…The media needs to stop reporting on Agenda 21 as if it were a bona fide controversy and plainly state the facts about the plan. And communities around the country, some of which have abandoned work on sustainability plans because of the heat, need to be encouraged to return to or start to develop such plans in tandem with responsible groups like the American Planning Association.”
Our Sanpete Messenger moniker says that we care about the towns, and all the people, in Sanpete County. Fundamental to that commitment is striving to always report the truth, and when needed, identifying falsehoods as such.