Last week, I traveled to Sibley to take in an Iowa Caucus event, and had the pleasure of watching grassroots democracy in action. It was an old-school political gathering, during which people sat around tables and talked about what candidates they preferred and why.
Then technology fouled the whole thing up, and Iowa unjustly became the laughingstock and frustration hotpoint for the American political landscape. I can’t help but feel badly for all those Iowans who earnestly wanted to participate in the presidential process, but now may well be more disenchanted than they already had been.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons to be disenchanted nowadays, and it could be fairly stated that ill-operating apps are the least of them.
Chances are, if you are Democrat, you are incredibly irate with the Senate vote to acquit President Donald Trump on two counts of impeachment. Then again, if you’re a Republican, you’re not only still scathing about a witch hunt, your britches are burning because Nancy Pelosi tore up Trump’s speech.
Yes, we live nowadays in a sorry state of affairs, it appears. To make matters worse, we’ve still got slightly less than nine months until Election Day. Given that both parties are framing this election as critical to the future of our nation, it’s easy to conclude there won’t be a lot of niceness (never mind bipartisanship) around this spring, summer and fall.
And, it’s a pretty basic bet that honesty among many politicians will be taking an extended vacation. Of course, that’s nothing new, but in the age of the internet, it’s become far more difficult for citizens to distinguish fact from fiction — and these days it seems like successful candidacies depend more and more on these lines of truthfulness being blurred.
A few weeks back, The Globe covered a visit by Dan Feehan to Worthington. Feehan is seeking the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by Jim Hagedorn. Hagedorn won the office by narrowly edging Feehan in 2018.
A portion of the article discussed the fact that multiple oil companies have received waivers from the federal government so they don’t have to blend ethanol into their fuel. According to our report: “The EPA is now investigating these waivers only after pressure from members of the House of Representatives — not including Hagedorn, Feehan stated.”
Days later, we received a letter accusing Feehan of a blatant falsehood. So, I undertook a little research. Sure enough, Hagedorn was apparently one of 35 representatives from both parties who signed a letter “urging the Environmental Protection Agency to stop issuing Small Refinery Exemptions for large or unqualified refiners under the Renewable Fuels Standard (according to Illinois Corn).
I received a request for a clarification Wednesday morning from Ben Reimler, the director of operations for Feehan's campaign. "While there have been several letters from Congress to the EPA regarding the ethanol waivers, Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, submitted a letter to the Government Accountability Office requesting an investigation into the waivers. Congressman Hagedorn was not a signer on this letter and this was the letter we specifically referenced in the interview (with the Globe). "
What has happened with this report is unfortunate, but also not entirely uncommon. How often, for example, do we watch and then read about an address or remarks from a national elected official, and then see those same words dissected for truthfulness by a large team of diligent fact-checkers much larger than the size of The Globe’s newsroom team?
We covered the event and reported comments made by Feehan. Right around the same time, we covered an event in which Hagedorn visited Luverne, and we wrote what he said there. We also reported on what he said in Worthington a few months earlier — an occasion after which we were asked by the Hagedorn camp to issue a clarification on a quotation of his that they said was taken out of context. We did indeed publish the clarification and added the context, but that still doesn’t change what he said: “Nobody [in America] goes to sleep at night wondering if they’ll be able to feed their families.”
Former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York once famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Politicians playing loosely with the truth is, of course, nothing new, but there’s so much information to be found online that it’s not always easy to tell fact from fiction. And, of course, one politician’s fact can be a rival’s fiction, and vice versa.
At The Globe, our most important mission is to report the facts and tell the truth. Shouldn’t anyone who runs for office, regardless of political affiliation, be held to that same standard? It sure seems there would be less disenchantment if that were indeed the case.