Lecturer gets down to the facts: Award-winning commentator speaks at Creason Lecture



By Eva McEnrue

The United States is suffering from “stupidification,” or intellectual illiteracy, according to the 2004 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary.

Leonard Pitts Jr. discussed the dangerous growth of incoherence at the 34th Annual Joe Creason Lecture, “Owning What You Know,” on Tuesday in the UK Student Center’s Worsham Theater.

“We are all eating intellectual junk food,” Pitts said.

He said the United States is now governed by two different sets of facts. Both liberals and Republicans are guilty of lying, exaggerating, shading the truth and omitting facts, restricting Americans ability to be knowledgeable, Pitts said.

The issue of concern is not the spread of erroneous facts, according to Pitts, but the disregard for the truth.

“We live in an era where all facts are not created equal,” he said.

People will believe only what they want to, despite the strength of the evidence or the source of the information, he said.

Pitts also discussed the Internet’s power.

“The Internet is a powerful tool for research and innovation, but its ability to spread lies and receive lies is its most powerful tool,” Pitts said.

Americans are ignoring plain facts and reading the information that satisfies their beliefs only, creating a bilateral, coarse-national dialogue that is grave to national politics, he said.

He said that America is “grounded in a growing incoherence,” which is a “clear and present danger” to the country.

“It is a fight between reason and unreason, logic and illogic, intelligence and a proud lack there of,” he said.

Ending “stupidification” requires three changes, Pitts said.

First, all news outlets should treat lies as front-page news. The media should check every fact and report a politician’s lie. A journalist’s mission is to seek truth and report it, and it should not be limited by the fear of being accused of bias or partisan, he said.

Lies are effective because Americans are incapable of determining fact, he said. Critical thinking should be required in school to teach citizens how to identify the truth from falsity.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but everyone is not entitled their own facts,” he said. “Facts are not black or blue, facts are facts.”

Lastly, Pitts said we must own what we know.

“It is more important to find truth than win a debate,” he said. “Take responsibility for what you believe. Watch where you get your information.”

Debate is trivial without an objective truth because there is no basis for discussion, agreement or conclusion, he said.

“We swallow intellectual junk food, and wonder why we are sick,” Pitts said. “We are screaming at one and other, and wonder why no one hears.”

He said the truth leads to questions, which lead to answers.

Pitts joined the Miami Herald in 1991 as its pop music critic, and since 1994 he has written a syndicated column of commentary on pop culture, social issues and family life. He is a five-time recipient of the National Headliners Award and in 2001 he received the American Society of Newspaper Editors Award for Commentary Writing, and was named Feature of the Year columnist by Editor and Publisher magazine. He also is the author of “Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood.”

“Facts are the building blocks of truth,” Pitts said. “If the facts are untrustworthy, the truth is also untrustworthy.”