When it comes to our desire for the truth, Americans couldn't be more conflicted.
On the one hand, we're obsessed with forensic TV shows dedicated to the search for an utterly objective, scientifically immutable truth. CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, NCIS, Cold Case, Numb3rs, Bones. When Bill Petersen or David Caruso break the facts down to the level of DNA and sub-microscopic particles, they always get their perp. Wiggle room dies a rapid death in their labs. And we love getting to the truth.
But when we turn off the TV and turn our attention to far weightier matters, we seem willing -- indeed eager -- to forget about the facts and throw our arms around truthiness.
As Stephen Colbert, the godfather of truthiness puts it: "I'm not a fan of facts. You see, facts can change, but my opinion will never change, no matter what the facts are." Or, as the Colbert Report's mocking caption writer summed it up: "Heart good, head bad."
Of course, while Colbert uses the concept of truthiness to satirize our collective embrace of what we wish were true -- even when it's not, George Bush, Karl Rove, and the spinmeisters of the GOP message machine use it as their primary mode of communication.
Trust us. It's true because we say it is. What are you going to believe, your eyes or our soundbytes?
It's how they sold us the invasion of Iraq (Saddam-unleashed mushroom clouds could be the logo for the Truthiness Society). And it's how they are trying to sell us the consequences of that invasion as something other than an unmitigated disaster.
You'd think that only a satirist would try to spin the horrors of the last week in Iraq as a sign of progress. But it wasn't Colbert who surveyed the bloody sectarian violence pushing Iraq to the precipice of all-out civil war and declared that the bombing of the Golden Mosque would "likely" turn out to have been a good thing. It was Rove.
And it wasn't the irreverent caption writer of Colbert's "The Word" who put up chyrons asking "'Upside' to Civil War?" and "All-Out Civil War in Iraq: Could it Be a Good Thing?". It was Fox News.
And it was George Bush, the walking, talking, swaggering, shoot-from-the-gut embodiment of truthiness, who went in front of the American Legion -- as the death toll in Iraq was hitting 130 in the previous 48 hours -- and said, "I'm optimistic... Out of negotiations now taking place in Iraq, a free government will emerge that will represent the will of the Iraqi people, instead of a cruel dictator, and that will help us keep the peace."
Jesus may be the president's favorite philosopher, but when it comes to spinning the facts, Bush seems to be asking himself WWCS? (What Would Colbert Say?). The truthiness will set you free.
Indeed, the Truthiness Taliban scored anther coup against facts, truth, and reality with the announcement that Halliburton would be getting almost the entire $250 million in disputed charges the Pentagon's top auditors had identified as potentially excessive or unjustified.
The auditors had looked at the facts and decided that Halliburton subsidiary KBR had charged, in some instances, "nearly triple what others were charging to do the same job" -- as a result of which the cost of the $2.41 billion no-bid contract had skyrocketed.
And it's a fact that over the last three years, in cases involving thousands of military contracts, the military usually followed the recommendations of the Pentagon auditors. According to the New York Times: "In 2003, the agency's figures show, the military withheld an average of 66.4 percent of what the auditors had recommended, while in 2004 the figure was 75.2 percent and in 2005 it was 56.4 percent." But with this audit, the Army decided to withhold just 3.8 percent of what the auditors recommended.
Those are the facts. But, for some reason, the Army decided that, given how hard it is to do things during a war and all, it would cut Halliburton some slack. "The contractor is not required to perform perfectly to be entitled to reimbursement," explained an Army spokeswoman.
How very early-James Frey Oprah of them. The cut-the-crap late-James Frey Oprah would have said, "That's a lie" and withheld all the money.
Responding to the Army's decision, Hallburton watchdog Rep. Henry Waxman said: "Halliburton gouged the taxpayer, government auditors caught the company red-handed, but the Pentagon ignored the auditors and paid Halliburton hundreds of millions of dollars and a huge bonus."
It's truthiness as government policy.
Right now, Stephen Colbert is smiling. The rest of us should be outraged.