It’s been a bad couple of weeks for truth. We don’t need to go back over it all: A hearing and investigation that seemed more concerned with providing cover for a foregone conclusion than with uncovering facts. The crocodile tears for survivors, before tossing them casually under the bus. The desperate pleas from those—constituents of Sen. Susan Collins, former drinking buddies of the judge—who wanted to believe the fix wasn’t in.
We’ve seen our democratic institutions bend a great deal since the ascendancy of Donald Trump, but in the Kavanaugh hearings, it felt like something snapped. It felt like, one after the other, the institutions that might uncover the truth or at least sanction a lie—Congress, the FBI, the judiciary—were being co-opted and reined in.
And that’s not just something we felt in our guts. None other than the RAND Corporation, the historically center-right think tank with roots in the defense industry, recently published a report warning of “truth decay“—the phenomenon where people, exposed to a daily flood of falsehood and spin, can no longer agree about what’s actually real.
It’s hard to overstate the urgency of this. Truth decay rots the foundations of democracy, and we may not yet know how deep the damage goes.
But there is something else we learned from this episode: Truth-tellers don’t quit, and speaking up is contagious. Christine Blasey Ford told her story despite the hate and mockery she knew would ensue. Friends of Brett Kavanaugh went public despite abuse and threats.
Here at Mother Jones, the experience left us doubly committed to giving voice to truth-tellers—and we know our readers feel that way too. Our fall pledge drive basically hit pause because we had to be 100 percent focused on this urgent story. Yet readers have been pitching in and signing up as sustaining supporters of our journalism. Because truth decay isn’t going away anytime soon—and because in the end, we still believe the truth will prevail. Even now. It just takes persistence.
Before I sat down to write this, I read some of your responses to our post asking readers how you are coping with the Kavanaugh hearings. The replies were gutting. Women shared memories of being assaulted as third-graders, as teenagers, as seniors. Men grappled with having been perpetrators, witnesses, or victims themselves.
What struck me most, though, was not the anguish but the resolve. Parents talking about raising boys and girls who know what consent and equality mean. Women in their 70s coming out to their families, men opening up to their spouses. People writing out their story, for the first time, in an email, and realizing that they wanted to shout it from the rooftops.
That’s how change begins—change that outlasts even a Supreme Court tenure.
The Reverend William Barber, who has built a remarkable cross-racial, cross-interest coalition that won critical voting rights and civil rights victories in North Carolina (and turned the governor’s mansion blue despite enormous odds) reminded us of that when he stepped into a church packed with hundreds of MoJo readers last July. “The reason we’re being fought,” he said, “is not because we are weak, but because we are powerful.”
He was (I didn’t realize this until I listened to the recording again while writing this) actually talking about Brett Kavanaugh, who had just been nominated. “You want to make it so that if you lose, he loses, because he’s exposed,” he said.
“I get pessimistic,” he went on. “But there comes a time when you got to stop mourning and pick yourself up. And If someone ever tells me again this is the worst we’ve ever seen in America—the worst? You tired and folk had to fight against their people being killed? You’re tired and people fought 200 years against slavery? You TIRED? Women had to fight like hell for the right to vote, and 18-year-olds had to fight because they were sending them to war but they couldn’t vote, and you got the nerve to talk about being TIRED?”
This kind of talk is not in our comfort zone as journalists. But stepping out of our comfort zones is what the moment requires, and it’s been encouraging to see more and more of our peers take a stand when our constitutional charge to act as a check on power hangs in the balance. And as CEO of Mother Jones, I know my job is to do everything in my power to ensure MoJo is up for the task at hand.
So I’m going to lay it all out here. For three years now, Mother Jones has been on a mission to double down on truth-telling—to expand our capacity and grow our audience. Our newsroom is now a third bigger than it was when Trump rode down that golden escalator, because our readers recognized that unwavering journalism is one of the few reliable checks against autocratic impulses.
But as the Kavanaugh affair reminds us, that kind of effort needs to be sustained. For years. Journalism can expose what Congress or the FBI won’t (yet), but only if it is secure.
That’s why, a few weeks ago, we launched a push asking readers to become monthly donors. Steady support is what allows us to keep reporters digging month in and month out. It’s what allows us to take risks without having to worry about a corporate owner or wealthy investor pulling us back. And it’s what lets us eschew the “view from nowhere” and focus on right versus wrong instead of left versus right.
We were going to push as hard as we could on this pledge drive—but then Kavanaugh happened and rightfully demanded everyone’s attention. So we’re well behind our goal of earning $30,000 in new monthly donations (we’re at about $4,000) in the next four weeks, and I’ll confess I’m concerned we won’t hit it at all. But as these last few weeks have made clear, now is no time to let up—and if just 1 in 1,000 of the people who come to our site each month pitch in $5 a month, we’ll have the resources we need to keep on charging hard for the truth.
I’m no Pollyanna: Journalism on its own can’t fix the trouble we’re in. But when the infrastructure of truth-finding is crumbling before our eyes, investigative reporting has to pick up the slack—immediately. Journalism’s mission isn’t in the streets or at the polls, but as the Reverend Barber said, “You have to have scribes, too—a dissenting, moral voice.” Mother Jones was founded 42 years ago to provide that voice, and with your help we’ll be doing it for weeks, months, and years to come.
Yes, we’re all exhausted—but we’re not tired. We have work to do.
Image credits: Win McNamee/CNP/ZUMA; Tom Williams/ZUMA(2); Erin Scott/ZUMA