10 July 2016

This year has seen a renewed enthusiasm by political commentators in the United States and the United Kingdom for using “post-truth” to describe the disregard some politicians show for the accuracy of their public statements.  The utterances of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have been a regular focus. A Google search for “post-truth politics” produces more than 5,080,000 hits.  Inevitably this has influenced our media.  Andrea Vance this week has written and tweeted asking if “… the post-truth era is upon us?”  It was 16 years ago that Ralph Keyes titled his book about dishonesty and euphemisms The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life. Her query then may be an ironical observation about New Zealand society in generally – and politicians in particular – trailing much of the western world by the better part of a generation – or it could just be that as the Guardian has been keen on the term, it needs air time here.

Familiarity with the expression may also flow from the recent launch of a book by Ari Rabin-Havt  Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics.  Rabin-Havt is a Vice President of Media Matters for America, a media watchdog aggressively critical of conservative media and their contributors.  Hillary Clinton was an early adviser to Media Matters. The New York Times has reported that Media Matters “helped lay the groundwork” for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.  Which leads to a New Zealand connection.  Hillary Clinton can perhaps be recognised as one of the early adopters of the post-truth style.  In 1995 she spoke of her mother naming her after Sir Ed Hillary. She also made that comment when meeting Sir Ed.  Despite being challenged repeatedly about the veracity, as her birth in 1947 was when Ed Hillary was an unrecognised New Zealand beekeeper and six years before scaling Mt Everest, it was more than a decade before she acknowledged the exaggeration.

A 2010 Grist article is claimed to have been the first use of the term “post-truth politics”  which in 2011 was adopted regularly by Paul Krugman articles in the New York Times, but a chapter in the 2004 book When President’s Lie (Eric Alterman) was titled “The Post-Truth Presidency”.  The “post-truth society” was being referred to in a blog by Charles Colson in 2002.