Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron offered a ringing defense of facts and the truth on Thursday, telling Harvard seniors who tuned in to an online graduation program for the Class of 2020 that the current coronavirus pandemic has not only underscored the value of accurate, authoritative information but has shown that lies and misinformation can be deadly.
“Only a few months ago, I would have settled for emphasizing that our democracy depends on facts and truth, and it surely does,” Baron said. “But now, as we can plainly see, it is more elemental than that. Facts and truth are matters of life and death. Misinformation, disinformation, delusions, and deceit can kill.”
Baron, who presented his remarks during an hourlong online morning ceremony, said that an independent press — “imperfect though [it] may be” — is key to ensuring that facts are presented and truth defended in society. This is true particularly now, he said, as leaders in much of the world are moving to quash the independent press, and “efforts in this country to demonize, delegitimize, and dehumanize the press give license to other governments to do the same — and to do far worse.”
He also warned that judges, historians, scientists, medical professionals, and other trained experts, once viewed as independent arbiters of facts, are being “devalued, dismissed, and denied. The goal is clear: to undermine the very idea of objective fact, all in pursuit of political gain.”
Baron was the principal speaker at the hourlong virtual celebration, called Honoring the Class of 2020. The event became the pandemic-era substitute for the traditional Commencement ceremonies, when Harvard President Larry Bacow in March postponed the annual in-person gathering until it is safe again to assemble in large numbers.