And that’s an alternative fact…

BLESSED, that’s me. Six foot three and topped off by a flowing head of hair at my age. In the long drive outside our large house sits a shiny new BMW bought with the advance for my latest book, topped up by the fee for my weekly column in a Sunday newspaper. Every day I check the diary to see when I am next needed for a book tour or to interview someone or other famous. Oh, what a life.

Yes, such are the alternative facts of my life. You know, the ones not entirely supported by the evidence (five foot eight, scant hair, etc).

The post-truth age is so yesterday. Now alternative truth is all the rage. This sinister little phrase fell from the lips of the Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on an American TV programme at the weekend. Booked on to NBC’s Meet the Press, she claimed that the new White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, hadn’t lied to reporters about the size of the crowd at the inauguration, he had merely presented them with “alternative facts” – a nasty bit of Orwellian newspeak.

This row about the crowds is in a sense one of those silly media/politics spats, although the truth – you know, the truthy, fact-fearing, sensible-shoe-wearing actuality – suggests that Barack Obama drew larger inaugural crowds, especially on the first occasion.

What exactly is this yobbish new kid on the word block? Alternative facts are the facts we want to believe in, rather than those other inconvenient facts, and in a sense this has always been the case. Although a more robust interpretation of alternative facts is a plain four-letter word: lies. An alternative fact is a lie, whatever Kellyanne Conway might believe.

Politics and the media have long paddled in the shallows when it comes to facts. For the newspapers, the plain facts of the news can be approached from many angles – and given whatever dressing the editor’s beliefs dictate. And this has always been the world Donald Trump inhabits, a place where a word means what you want it to mean, and the truth is whatever you say it is. This is truly scary, but for now I have had enough of being terrified of Trump. Just watching him on the evening news gives me the shudders.

Alternative facts are related to our old friend “economical with the truth”, which is just more wordplay standing in for “lie”. The Phrase Finder website tells us that this phrase was first recorded in the 18th century, and then brought into contemporary usage at the ‘Spycatcher’ trial in 1986 when the Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong was being cross-examined…

Lawyer: “What is the difference between a misleading impression and a lie?”
Armstrong: “A lie is a straight untruth.”
Lawyer: “What is a misleading impression – a sort of bent untruth?”
Armstrong: “As one person said, it is perhaps being ‘economical with the truth’.”

I admire ‘economical with the truth’ as a spot of linguistic wriggling, but ‘alternative facts’ is the language of thugs and dictators. And while Trump may not be a dictator, he does behave like one at times.

All the can hope is that the American media sticks up for itself and goes into truthful battle with the new president. A lie is a lie and needs pointing out as such.

As for my actual reality, perhaps I am blessed in different ways.

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