Steven Frank


The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously said “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Not anymore. Today everyone has their own “narrative.”

I grew up in the simpler world of the 1950’s. At the end of his nightly newscast, Walter Cronkite said “that’s the way it is” and that’s the way it was. He was not followed by four hours of cable television pointing out that was not the way it was after all. In that innocent age, facts could be independently verified, and were not to be confused with opinion which was an individual’s personal point of view. More recently, with the advent of twenty-four hour cable news and social media, the “narrative” has taken over. Neither fact nor opinion, the narrative consists of storytelling.

Nothing has been the same since.

Today, everyone has their own narrative. There is no longer a common denominator. Husbands have their narratives, wives have theirs, young folks have theirs, evangelicals have theirs, college-educated have theirs, blue collar have theirs, prosecutors have theirs, defense attorneys exist in an entirely different narrative universe altogether. We all live in our own bubble with our own personal narrative playing in a virtual loop justifying our every thought and deed. There is no longer a common truth, just dueling narratives.

What happened to facts? Call me old fashioned, but I still believe in the following undisputed facts:

1. The earth revolves around the sun.
2. Napoleon was short.
3. Oompa Loompas in the Willy Wonka saga are not real.
4. Taylor Swift will not swing the 2024 election.
5. According to 23 & me, I am 100 percent Jewish.

The narrative driven universe with its divergent facts and every-changing truths in which we now live reminds me of the scene in Woody Allen’s movie “Sleeper” where the owner of a health food store who was cryogenically frozen in 1973 and defrosted 200 years later is offered junk food to help with his recovery with the apology: “Oh yes, back in your time, junk food was considered bad for you.”

Recently, prominent college Presidents from three prestigious universities were asked a simple question: would calling for the genocide of Jews violate their university’s code of conduct? They answered it would “depend upon the context,” in other words, the narrative.

Are there, in fact, no longer any facts that can be independently verified? Is everything just an opinion or a story? Consider the epitome of dueling narratives today, the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The Israel narrative runs something like this: Survivors of the Holocaust and Zionist pioneers reclaimed their ancient home land and transformed it into a modern democracy and start-up nation all the while fighting off enemies on all sides determined to annihilate them. The Palestinian narrative runs counter: indigenous Arabs were ethnically cleansed from their ancient home land in a campaign of apartheid and genocide instigated by the Jews. Is there no way to verify the facts in these narratives?

The most troublesome narrative today is the Donald Trump reality show with its tens of millions of followers. For that audience, the narrative is that that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and his current legal troubles represent the weaponization of the nation’s justice system against him by Deep State operatives. For many of Trump’s true believers, it is not really a narrative at all but an independently verifiable fact.

I once mentioned to a Trump following friend that over sixty federal courts had resoundingly rejected Trump’s false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen. He responded: “that’s just your opinion.”

No. It’s not. It’s a fact. As Yoggi Berra used to say: “you could look it up.”

As for the contrary Israeli-Palestinian narratives described above, you can also separate fact from fiction here.

About the Author
Steve Frank is retired after a 30-year career as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in numerous publications including the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish News Syndicate and Moment magazine.