The White House has released President Obama’s long-form birth certificate:
This isn’t the document the campaign produced back in 2008, which is the same birth certificate anyone from Hawaii would receive if they requested a copy from the state. Instead, this new document is the one that is on record with the State, and which is normally not available.
At 8:50 am, this is how the story was reported on the Fox News website:
“White House Releases What It Says Is Obama’s Long-Form Birth Certificate” [Emphasis mine.] Now while factually correct, the statement is devoid of meaning or value. No fact can be known without it being communicated, and you can always challenge the method of communication or the communicator. Yes, the White House says this is the document. And tracing back, the State of Hawaii says that is the document, and within that huge bureaucracy, there is some individual who says that is the document.
Then in a later story, this qualifier disappears from the headline, and the story is simply “White House Releases Obama’s Long-Form Birth Certificate.” But deep within that article is the same qualifier, transformed: “Trump, speaking in New Hampshire, took credit Wednesday for the president’s decision to release the document. He said his team would have to examine the birth certificate…”
If you are pulled over by the cops for speeding, you are asked to produce your driver’s license. It would entirely unreasonable in the ordinary case for the officer to say, “This isn’t your license, this is just what you say is your license.” In that situation, the officer has the sole power to decide whether the card you gave him counts as a license or not, and you actually have no way to prove your case.
Buried in that hypothetical is the problem on display in the “birther” debate. The argument over facts–over reality–becomes an argument over who has the authority to say what reality is. When Fox ran the original headline, “White House Releases What It Says Is Obama’s Long-Form Birth Certificate”, it was implying that the White House would not have the final say on whether it actually is or is not the birth certificate. In other words, some higher authority would decide. But the higher authority was left open ended. Was is public opinion? Fox News itself?
In the second, updated article, the challenge to authority comes from the prospective Republican candidate. “His team would have to examine the birth certificate,” and presumably we can take their word for it.
News and analysis are no longer about reporting more or less of reality, or reality from a certain perspective. News has become simply challenging the various authorities that tells us what reality is. In most news coverage, it is never, “This is the fact.” It is always “So-and-so says this is the fact,” followed by an challenge from “the other side” (because there are only ever two alternatives) about so-and-so’s motives, the interests they represent, etc.
It’s hard to say when this all started, but a critical inflection point in the transformation of news from ostensibly reporting facts about the world to the reporting of people’s presentation of facts was the election of 2000. The turmoil surrounding the vote count in Florida can be simply summarized. The margin of victory was smaller than the margin of error of the vote counting techniques used. What people refused to understand and that the media either didn’t want to understand or want to report is that absolutely every single method of counting anything has a margin of error. So the truth of the Florida vote count in 2000 is that it is impossible to know with certainty who won. Period. Once the difference between D votes and R votes was within than the margin of error, then it is impossible to know for sure who who. The election could have been decided on a coin toss or a hand of poker and it would have at least yielded more certainty.
Instead, that election was decided on the basis of which party could, on an ad hoc real-time basis, maneuver within and exploit the judiciary in Florida and the Supreme Court. What was originally to be decided on facts (okay, statistics) was instead decided on argument in a court. Without really realizing it, we the electorate ceded our authority to select the President to the judiciary. The authority decided, and those who agreed withthe outcome simply accepted the authority’s statements of what was reality as reality, and those that didn’t grumbled that the authority was being unfair/impartial/etc.
Many birthers will be persuaded by the birth certificate produced by the administration. But many won’t. What do they want, do you think? What kind of person or institution declaring the matter settled would they believe?