Two potential vice presidents visited Nevada recently, and both said the same thing: Tell your friends!
Republican Mike Pence made his pitch last week at the Henderson Convention Center. Said Pence: All the cable TV shows, front-page news stories, editorials and Tweets in the world don’t matter as much as a person hearing from an acquaintance why he supports Trump for president.
“Word of mouth is always the most powerful media in America,” said Pence.
On Monday, Democrat Tim Kaine showed up at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 525, reminding a rally that voters are getting skeptical about TV ads, but they tend not to tune out thoughts from a neighbor or a friend. So volunteer, Kaine said, and join an army more powerful than any negative TV ad.
There is something to the notion that a trusted friend can speak with more credibility than a random stranger, even if that random stranger is, say, the political reporter for the Washington Post, or a dogged researcher for Politifact.
If you’ve got a reputation among your peer group as somebody who follows politics, you might be able to trump a slew of super-PAC ads.
But there’s a downside to this idea, too: What if the people are wrong?
I have something of a conflict here, being a longtime member of the mainstream media with a vested interest in holding on to whatever remains of the traditional information-vetting role journalism once had in American life. Journalists for reasons of job security and occupational pride prefer people get news from sources that have been checked for inaccuracies.
And boy, are there a lot of them.
Pence made his comments at the end of a rally in which he bravely took questions from his audience, a bit of daring Kaine did not emulate. Sadly, those in attendance wasted their opportunity, asking Pence about the alleged violation of rights of the Bundy family and the supposed rise of Sharia law in America.
For the record, Cliven Bundy and his family have received more due process in the civil and criminal courts than the rest of us are ever likely to need in a lifetime.
And the abuse of good, old American law is a far greater problem than Sharia will ever be.
Are these really the folks Pence wants evangelizing for Trump?
The trouble is, there are far too many credulous people out there, those who will believe anything posted on the internet, provided the website leans their way politically. They’re the ones who say Americans are being sprayed with chemicals from above, that the Bush administration was in on 9/11 or that the Clintons have left a trail of murdered bodies in their wake.
The great democratization of information that is the internet (thanks a lot, Al Gore!) has solved a host of truly vexing problems, but in the process, created many others, the most acute of which is this: How do we determine what’s true? I often try to trace the source of fantastical ideas tossed my way by readers, and usually end up in one of the dark warrens of the web, where anybody can write anything and — presuming you use a somewhat credible font — have your scribblings appear to be true.
But if the 2016 campaign has taught us anything, it’s that people have lost trust and confidence in institutions such as government and the mainstream media, and enjoy their comeuppance at the hands of disruptive forces such as social media, fringe websites and Donald Trump.
And while its easy to see why legions of disaffected people rejoice at the revolution, it’s harder to see how it ends well.
Eventually, some things are true and others aren’t, and an army of people spreading falsehoods isn’t any good for democracy.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.