I’ve always thought historian, author and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns was rather over dramatic for an academic. However, he’s extremely well versed in American history with nearly 50 books and more than 30 documentaries to his credit. Burns always makes a great point whenever he’s interviewed.
Below, in an interview with Christiane Amanpour of CNN, Burns makes the case that the internet has created an opportunity whereby nothing lasts in the media for very long. This means it’s easier, much easier than ever, to pass off a lie as the truth. Burns says:
“An amoral internet permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started… Things that would occupy weeks of our conversation are spoken then forgotten in a day or so. And what starts to happens is that we accrue a sense that the truth doesn’t matter anymore… Historians are taking a big time out and saying we really have to look at this.”
One of Burns’s documentaries is the “Central Park Five.” The film documents the tragic case of Trisha Meili, a female jogger who was brutally beaten and raped while on a jog in Central Park in 1989. The attack left her in a coma for 12 days.
During this time, while he was just a well known business man, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump took out four full page ads in four of the largest newspapers in New York, including the New York Times. He paid a reported $85,000 in total for the ads. The headline read:
“Bring Back The Death Penalty. Bring Back The Police!”
In the ad, with his signature, Trump wrote:
“I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence.”
He ran the ads less than two weeks after the Central Park attack. This was before any of the five boys, all teenagers, had faced trial. The ads were run while Meili was still laying in a coma in the hospital.
It was powerful. It sent a message to the city. And it was a lie.
The boys were coerced into signing confessions by the police. Years later they were eventually exonerated and given a $41 million settlement in 2014.
Featured image: screenshot of Ken Burns via CNN video interview.