Fact versus falsity versus opinion — let’s review

Have I gone soft? Has this column become less upsetting to the kinds of knuckleheads who think kidnapping and murdering the governor of Michigan an exciting idea?

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Sorry, Rudy Giuliani, but you’ve been had, writes Gene Lyons.

AP Photos

As overwrought as many Americans are over the upcoming election, it’s been months since this column has elicited a death threat. Even so, I got edgy the other night when an unusually loud pickup all tricked out for a demolition derby pulled up in front of our house.

I was on my way to fetch Albert the cat. Always his own man, Albert relocated to a neighbor’s front porch after we adopted a young dog he dislikes. I collect him every evening and carry him purring back home for supper. It’s understood that the dog will remain in the backyard. He eats, visits for a time, and then returns to Albert World Headquarters, a nightly ritual.

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False alarm. The trucker with the throbbing muffler had business with the neighbors (or possibly their daughter) and pulled away before I returned.

Even so, it got me thinking. Have I gone soft?

Specifically, has this column become less upsetting to the kinds of knuckleheads who think kidnapping and murdering the governor of Michigan an exciting idea? Or has my policy of blocking emails from guys who make threats left me defenseless in a fool’s paradise?

People never talk that way to me in person. And cops will tell you that guys who send threats almost never act. Four years ago, I got several threats from Russians who thought Trump should defecate in my mouth, as one charmingly put it. They claimed to have operatives watching me, but made dumb mistakes like ones I’d make if I tried to pretend I was in Moscow.

You know (at the risk of getting ahead of myself), mistakes like pretending that a guy they evidently didn’t know lives in Los Angeles (Hunter Biden) dropped off a laptop filled with incriminating secrets at a computer repair shop in Wilmington, Delaware — 3,000 miles away.

That kind of dumb mistake.

So, sorry, Rudy, you’ve been had. But then Rudy Giuliani’s the kind of hotshot lawyer who recently told The Daily Beast that “the chance that [his Ukrainian source Andriy] Derkach is a Russian spy is no better than 50/50.”

You wouldn’t want him handling your divorce.

“Your honor, it’s 50/50 my client’s running around.”

Russian operatives, history shows, tend to be infinitely cunning, but equally clumsy. They can’t even seem to poison Putin’s enemies lately without A) failing, and B) getting caught.

But I digress. If I’m getting fewer threats these days, hardly a day passes without somebody accusing me of lying. A lie, to these naive souls, being any fact or opinion with which they disagree. It’s amazing how many people out there — even among the minority that actually read newspapers — don’t grasp the most elementary things about how journalism works. Real journalism, that is.

To elaborate, this is an opinion column. It tends to be argumentative, yes. However, it’s a point of pride and professionalism to base those opinions on facts. After all, what’s the point of winning an argument if you have to cheat? I also have professional editors who question any factual assertion they find dubious. It’s a professional matter with them, too. A good editor can save you from yourself.

However, there’s also an awful lot of masquerading going on in the wider world, and it’s understandable that some readers get confused. Lots of outlets mimic the outward forms of actual journalism without the content. Such as the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid the New York Post, for example.

Which is why it speaks volumes that even the Post’s lead reporter on the Hunter Biden email “scandal” declined to allow his byline on the story. No surprise, as The Washington Post’s Max Boot points out, since “the very first line ... was false”: “Hunter Biden,” the New York Post article reads, “introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company, according to emails obtained by the Post.”

In reality, as undisputed evidence at Boss Trump’s impeachment trial and two subsequent Republican-led Senate committees also determined, there was no such investigation.

That’s a fact.

It’s also one of the big reasons the U.S. government and the European Union were so eager to get rid of corrupt prosecutor Viktor Shokin: precisely because he wouldn’t touch anybody politically connected, including Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company upon whose board of directors Hunter Biden (inappropriately, but not illegally) sat.

Joe Biden’s action was contrary to his son’s interest.

Meanwhile, NBC News has reported that the FBI is currently investigating whether the emails hyped by the New York Post “are linked to a foreign intelligence operation.” That’s a fact, too.

In consequence, my opinion is that the farcical aspects of the entire episode make the odds a lot better than 50/50 that Russian spies staged it. Oh, and Rudy Giuliani shouldn’t be doing so much investigating in bars.

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