Opinion: Words, true or not, still matter

Published 11:24 am Friday, December 9, 2016

Words matter.

That seems obvious but in a political climate where facts and truth have given way to lies, distortions and bullying, the impact of words has never been more obvious.

For example: President-election Donald Trump publicly criticized an individual on Twitter this week. He wrote: “Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers.”

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Trump was responding to Jones’ criticism following a deal to keep Carrier Corp. from closing an Indiana factory. Trump had suggested that the number of jobs saved could top 1,000. Jones said the total is less because more than 400 jobs will still be lost from the Indianapolis plant.

So, what was the reaction to Trump’s words about this man? Jones told the Washington Post he received death threats after Trump’s tweet.

Yes, words matter. Especially the words of the man who will be president in a few short weeks. It’s not the first time — and likely won’t the last time — Trump has taken to Twitter to publicly shame a citizen.

If Trump wants to criticize or respond to someone like Jones, there are better ways to do it than blasting his opinion to millions through Twitter. It’s not about being politically correct or not, it’s about being a responsible individual. He is the president-elect after all. Shouldn’t we expect more?

Another case, this one with greater consequences: After reading rumors painted as legitimate news, a man thinking he was rescuing sexually abused children from a pizza joint fired a gun inside the restaurant.

Edgar Welch had read that the restaurant was part of a child sex ring operated by Hillary Clinton. But there were no secret chambers holding children, no children and no evidence at all that the story was true.

But it didn’t matter to Welch. He had read the story on the Internet and he believed it. The author of one of those fake stories admitted that there was little concern for accuracy. Website traffic, not the truth, was the priority. 

“I really have no regrets and it’s honestly really grown our audience,” the author said.

The website Infowars, run by Trump friend Alex Jones, suggested that Clinton was involved in a child sex ring, furthering the conspiracy theory.

“When I think about all the children Hillary Clinton has personally murdered and chopped up and raped, I have zero fear standing up against her,” Jones said on YouTube. That video was viewed more than 400,000 times. 

Jones’ words mattered. The fake news stories mattered and could have cost innocent restaurant customers their lives. Spreading lies is not only irresponsible, it’s downright dangerous.

The First Amendment allows you to speak or publish just about anything you like (there are exceptions), but speakers like Trump and Jones must be prepared for the fallout from those words. If those words lead to violence they are responsible. The First Amendment protects speech, but it doesn’t remove the speaker’s moral responsibility for those words.