In 1897, Mark Twain published Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World, in which one of his characters, David “Pudd’nhead” Wilson, remarked, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
As I interpret this enigmatic declaration, fiction bears the responsibility of being possible, even credible (imagine a work of fiction failing to intrigue or entertain because its characters, setting, plot, theme, and conflict strike the reader as nonsense and its syntax, gibberish), whilst truth, in its fullness, ever unfathomable and characterized by surprise, does not.
Still, as I survey the current landscape of our American electoral politics and particularly the rash of fake news stories, Twain has been turned on his head (and may be spinning in his grave). Fiction has little to no plausibility, yet, at least by an appreciable minority (still numbering millions), is believed as gospel; and truth, languishing on a plush bed of facts, by these same folk, is disregarded and discarded.
Many are the roots of this phenomenon…
I think the media bears some fault. Fake news, though having a seemingly outsized place in today’s America, isn’t new. Over time, I believe, the fact-finding editorial failings of established news organizations, especially and unfairly when writ large and painted with a broad brush, have bolstered the claims of “the dishonest media”, notably by Donald Trump, and contributed to the appeal of contra-mainstream news outlets.
A more disturbing cause of the acceptance of fake news (by however many, for me, being too many!) is my hunch (which I confess is writ large and painted with a broad brush) that we humans seem to be wedded increasingly to whatever declaration or proclamation substantiates our points of view or validates our preconceived ideas about reality.
In contradistinction, I am guided by the counsel William Sparrow, sometime professor of church history and theology, imparted to his students: “Seek the truth; come whence it may, cost what it will.” The quest for truth – in this sense, that which is real, factual, verifiable, and existentially always larger, greater, more complex than any one person can attain or contain – necessarily involves my being open to the challenge, the confrontation of information beyond my knowledge and contrary to my belief.
I never intend to universalize my experience or to pose as a more enlightened thinker than any other. Nevertheless, I pray that all people join in this rigorous course of seeking truth, even and especially when what we discover flies in the face of what we think we already know. Still more, I pray that fiction will become stranger than truth.
 To list but two of the egregious many… A FBI agent who was suspected in Hillary Clinton email leaks was found dead in an apparent murder-suicide (shared on Facebook nearly 600,000 times). Pope Francis revealed that he supported Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump (reported by the political newsfeed, The American Patriot, which somehow discounted the Pontiff’s previously declared estimation of Mr. Trump, “This man is not a Christian”).
 And as a logophile, I resort to the Latin, fictionem, meaning “to fashion” or “to feign”; as in another Latin phrase, oft employed to describe the absolute animating power of God, creatio ex nihilo, “creation out of nothing”, however, in the case of fake news, meaning to lie!
 For example… In 1980, Janet Cooke, The Washington Post reporter, wrote a supposed true-life story, later verified as purest fabrication, “Jimmy’s World”, about an eight-year old heroin addict, for which she was awarded and subsequently stripped of the Pulitzer Prize. In 1993, Dateline NBC News reported that a General Motors pickup truck was subject to fuel tank gas leaks and fires; later issuing a public apology for staging the test crash by rigging the vehicle with explosives. In 2003, The New York Times, accused Jayson Blair of inventing numerous stories, many filed from other cities whilst he remained in his Brooklyn apartment. In 2004, Dan Rather’s illustrious CBS News career was dashed by a false story accusing George W. Bush of having shirked Vietnam era military service as an Air National Guard pilot. In December 2014, Rolling Stone magazine published Sabrina Erdely’s story, “A Rape on Campus”, alleging the gang assault of a University of Virginia student by several fraternity members. Later, the story, confirmed to be without evidence, was retracted, leading to a successful defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone, its publisher, and Erdely. In 2015, Brian Williams’s NBC News anchorman career came to an end after he was accused of repeatedly lying about taking enemy fire during a 2003 helicopter flight into Iraq.
 The Reverend William Sparrow, DD, (1801-1874), professor, The Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA, 1841-1874.