Franklin actually began
as a newspaperman. In 1731 he wrote in his "Apology for Printers," "That the Opinions of Men are almost as various as their Faces. . . . Printers are educated in the Belief, that when Men differ in
Opinion, both Sides ought equally to have the Advantage of being heard by the Publick; and that when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter."
William Randolph Hearst was a newspaperman who grew his political power as he grew his chain of media outlets. "In the 1930s, one in four Americans got their news from Hearst, who owned twenty-eight newspapers in nineteen cities," wrote Walter G. Moss on History News Network.org.
But it was Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, as founded and driven by Roger Ailes, that turned the corner and created a media network whose founding and mission was from its launch a political one. Fox News trumped its "Fair and Balanced" franchise as a shield, but Ailes’ history with Richard Nixon would quickly convince anyone who chose to explore the Fox News mission that it was anything but.
Instead, Ailes believed that other media and news outlets were biased and left-leaning, using
their fairness and objectivity as convenient fiction. Fox would embrace the same illusion but with alternative outcomes.
And while Murdoch's founding of Fox News was left-leaning, those who knew him back then suggest that the political slant of Fox News was more about finding an underserved niche in the market than any political objective.
But Trump's new organization is different than anything that comes before it. Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG) has already raised $1 billion in funding to build and launch a company called Truth Social.
The name is far more than word salad. By leading with "Truth," the media company is claiming ownership over a concept that is already complicated.
CNN isn't named TNN -- Truth News Network -- for a reason. Truth is complicated, it's nuanced, and when it comes to the blurry line between news and opinion, Truth Social is poised to make any attempt to define objective truth a hopeless exercise.
Keeping in mind that Trump has already made his definition of “truth” clear: It's whatever he wants it to be. From his early claims of the size of his inauguration crowd
to his endorsement of bleach to cure COVID, to his relentless promotion of false claims of election fraud, Trump Truth doesn't have to have any coherent relationship to facts or evidence. It just
needs to be an option, backed by a powerful media megaphone to amplify it to his followers. The social media echo chamber does the rest.
"TMTG will be in a stronger position to fight back against the tyranny of Big Tech," said Trump in a press release announcing the funding. It's clear that Truth Social is a battleship with its guns already loaded targeting current media outlets and tech platforms.
For a media company to be funded and launched on the basis that it will provide "truth" that will correct the untruths distributed by big tech and mainstream media should alone be enough to raise alarms. For a politician to claim to be the rightful owner of truth is a damaging claim.
But for Trump, his record for distributing and amplifying fictions and labeling them facts is already a matter of public record. The Washington Post chronicled the false claims in a public database that can be seen here.
So, looking ahead to the future of truth as defined and controlled by Donald Trump, philosophers and scholars say the damage may already be done. "You can mitigate the damage, but you can't bring it back to 100 percent the way it was before," Lee McIntyre, the author of "Post-Truth" and a philosopher at Boston University, told The New York Times. "And I think that's going to be Trump's legacy. I think there's going to be lingering damage to the processes by which we vet truths for decades....The confusion between skepticism and denialism, the idea that if you don't want to believe something, you don't have to believe it — that's really damaging, and that's going to last."
Truth is complicated, especially in this digitally connected and increasingly blurry world. But there is no more direct attack on the objective truth than Donald Trump, and the fact that investors are willing to put $1 billion in the hands of an anti-truth activist is cause for concern.
Who are these investors? What are their names? What money are they spending? These are questions worth getting answered -- and quickly.