Robert Schmuhl | December 5, 2017
Back in the 1980s, besides asking voters to “Win One for the Gipper,” Ronald Reagan often quoted a Russian proverb when he talked about slowing down the nuclear arms race and cooling off the Cold War. In translation, the Gipper-president’s three-word motto and mantra was “Trust, but verify.”
At one summit meeting with the president, Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev turned to Reagan after he invoked the proverb, remarking, “You repeat that at every meeting.” Reagan replied with his sunny candor: “I like it.”
I like it, too, even outside the realm of international interaction and superpower disarmament. If we can adapt an ecclesiastical phrase in this instance, the maxim should become canon law in approaching any — yes, any — information on the internet.
During the past couple of years, you would think all the charges of “fake news,” credible or otherwise, would have made everyone with a computer, tablet or smartphone suspicious of whatever might be appearing on a screen with web access. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
An academic study that appeared a few weeks ago came to this depressing conclusion: “The more we encounter fake news, the more likely we are to believe it.”
The delivery of misinformation extends beyond fabricated reports masquerading as real journalism. And here, for better or for worse, it’s time to get personal and to emphasize the importance of Reagan’s received Russian wisdom to “trust, but verify.”
If, in an idle moment, you’d happen to Google my name, the following thumbnail sketch would pop up on your screen in a Google-created box: “Robert Schmuhl is chairman of the Department of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame and author of Ireland’s Exiled Children: America and the Easter Rising and Thomas Jefferson: America’s Philosopher-King.”