Opinions on facts in politics shared at Scholars town-hall

Photo by Bryan Gallion

The role facts play in politics, how claims are evaluated and who is responsible for fact-checking were discussed at a town-hall discussion Thursday hosted by College Park Scholars.

The event, called “Do Facts Matter? Presidential Politics in the Age of Truthiness,” was held in Hoff Theater — the room where students viewed the final presidential debate of the election cycle the night before.

Public Leadership Scholars Director Jennifer Littlefield served as the moderator for the six-person panel comprised of other Scholars directors. Littlefield said six different Scholars programs were brought together for the event, allowing the directors from different disciplines to speak about a central topic.

“Truthiness,” as used in the event’s title, was defined by Science and Global Change Scholars Director Tom Holtz. Coined by comedian Stephen Colbert, the term means the “quality or aspects of believing truth, whether or not it conforms to the facts.”

“People accept facts easily when they are consonant with their beliefs,” Holtz said. “The time that we run into problems with the facts is when empirical data contracts what we want to believe is true.”

Kalyan Chadha, the Media, Self and Society Scholars director, spoke about the hostile media effect.

“When people are strong partisans of a position or dearly, dearly hold onto a belief,” Chadha said, “they tend to look at un-biased media coverage as biased or slanted.”

Panelists also discussed the role of lying in politics and how to find trust in a candidate. From Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s email scandal to Republican hopeful Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, both major-party candidates have made potential voters question the individuals who are vying to run the country.

“I think its our responsibility with social media to get out of our own echo chambers and to read a variety of different news sources to find out what’s really going on in our own reality,” Justice and Legal Thought Scholars Director Robert Koulish said.

Citizens have been analyzing the media’s coverage of the election, sometimes finding bias supporting one candidate over another. The recent leakage of Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails shows that one of Clinton’s former top aides had discussed working with “very friendly” reporters in the early stages of the nominee’s email scandal.

“WikiLeaks is truly exposing the bias in the national media,” freshman economics major Jonathan Frank said. “It’s essentially an extension of the Hillary Clinton campaign.”

Once the directors finished sharing their viewpoints, the floor was opened for questions from the audience. One student asked if it is citizens’ responsibility to vote, and vote in an informed way.

Koulish simply responded with “vote.”

“We must think critically as citizens about issues that affect us,” Koulish said. “Not as individuals alone, but as a political community.”