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Leonard Pitts: America becomes nation awash in baloney

By Leonard Pitts

Baloney is not free.

That’s important to keep in mind in an era that finds America wading hip deep in a cascading tide of bovine effluvium. This nonsense is not harmless, not trivial, not abstract. And it always exacts a cost.

If some of us ever knew that, they have apparently forgotten. As a result, we have become a nation awash in public lies — conspiracy theories without basis, crackpot pronouncements from figures of authority, misleading, mendacious misstatements false as a four-dollar bill, delivered every minute of every day to our television, computer and smartphone screens.

Baloney is not free. Still, the price thus far has been borne by a relative few.

It has cost “only” the parent who paid in heartache when some wild-eyed conspiracy theorist claimed that a beloved child killed in a mass shooting never existed and the shooting itself did not happen.

“Only” the African Americans who paid in deepening estrangement as the first black president was pressured into producing his birth certificate to answer baseless claims that he was not born in this country.

“Only” the pizza restaurant patrons who paid in terror as a man with a military-style assault rifle opened fire in hopes of rescuing child sex slaves he had been led to believe were imprisoned there.

But if only a few of us have paid for such baloney thus far, it looks as if the whole country might soon have to ante up.

It seems the United States is grappling with an outbreak of the measles, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting last week that there have been 465 cases so far this year.

That means this is already the second worst year since the disease was reported eradicated in 2000. Measles has shown up in 19 states, including Michigan, Missouri, California, Texas, Georgia, New York and Florida.

At the present rate, we will eclipse the previous record of 667 cases, set in 2014. Officials say the resurgence of the highly contagious, sometimes-fatal disease is driven by the so-called “anti-vax” movement — parents who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated because they believe the vaccine causes autism.

It doesn’t. The supposed link between vaccinations and autism stems from a 1998 study by a British doctor. The study was debunked, its findings retracted, the doctor defrocked.

But the baseless fear he raised lives on.

Now we — actually, our young children — stand to pay for the baloney he sold. The currency will be fevers, runny noses, coughs, watery eyes and rashes. It could be death.

Is that what it will take to finally bring some of us to their senses? There is, after all, something stark and undeniable about the link between cause and effect here, between anti-vaccination and outbreak.

Maybe that will show some of us how foolish it is to believe absurd untruths without the slightest evidence.

Maybe it will remind them how dangerous it is to abandon the obligation of thinking critically. Maybe it will teach them how dumb it is to consider Facebook more authoritative than the CDC or The New York Times.

And maybe it will remind them that the truth doesn’t care what you believe, doesn’t care what you want or whom you voted for. The truth just is.

To reject that is to reject the connective tissue that makes nationhood possible, to reject any chance of greater good and common cause, to reject the very possibility of us. So this outbreak, troubling as it is, offers a timely chance for some of us to reconsider the choice to live in nonsense.

Because the cost of baloney is high. And it’s getting higher all the time.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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