An Alaskan journalist's perspective on local and national issues

There was a great quote that was said by an equally great man.  It was William Faulkner, the American writer and nobel prize laureate.  This quote really symbolizes exactly what needs to be talked about when it comes to the news.  The quote goes as follows –

Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other.

Brilliant, isn’t it?  And he’s right.  The fact is that facts and the truth are usually mutually exclusive.  Centering this concept on the field of journalism, there is a great truism that journalists need to accept – objective reporting is worthless and impossible.

Addressing the second concept, it is impossible to seperate yourself from what you do.  Everything we all do comes from a subjective point of view.  If it were actually possible to seperate the needs of the self, then the problems in this country could be fixed in a day.  But it isn’t.  It really would be nice if it were possible, but there is no way that it could be.

To the first point, fact-based reporting, exclusively fact-based reporting, is nothing but a worthless joke.  Ted Koppel wrote an article in The Washington Post about how “real news” is dying thanks in part to the political commentators on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN.  In his mind, there is this objective place where the news people only reported facts, and that was it.

But Faulkner was dead-on.  The truth and facts rarely have much to do with one-another.  And all the great reporters through history didn’t depend on facts to make their points.

When Edward R. Murrow was going after the McCarthy machine, challenging the government, everyone told him how he was editorializing.  Well, yeah, he was.  He was taking information in, digesting it, coming to his own conclusions, and giving them to the public.  He had the truth on his side, too.  What McCarthy was doing was wrong.  The war of words between the two of them was not only a testament to great journalism, but to a great man, fighting against all odds, and winning.  Murrow and his battle were part of what broke McCarthy, and brought sanity back to this country.

Or what about Walter Cronkite and his reports talking about how the war in Vietnam was a lost cause?  He didn’t just give facts.  He told America that there was no way that we could win this war.  The only thing we could do is to walk away, not having failed, but having done the best that we can.  Stalemate was the best that we could hope for.  It was a very unpopular thing to say, but it was truth.

While we are talking about unpopular statements, how about H.L. Mencken and his reports about what was happening in America during Prohibition?  His reporting was viciously cold and very real.  He knew from the beginning about what a farce this new law was.  He knew that the business would continue, unemcumbered by these new laws.  It was all a complete joke.  As you can imagine, this was incredibly unpopular with the pulse of the nation which, at that time, was very pro-dry.  Booze was bad, and if you printed that it wasn’t, you were not the friend of the system.

The fact is that Faulkner’s quote was appropriate.  You can’t possibly think that the facts and the truth are connected.  During the beginning of the Iraq War, the news reported a lot of facts, but it took the BBC to report that all of this stuff was bogus.  People watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report to get their politics because they don’t trust the people we have in politics now.  The independent media is growing because the average American is getting fed up with just being told “facts.”

Keith Olbermann was right when he responded to Ted Koppel’s article.  He had a very nice quote that surmizes this whole affair rather nicely.

These (great reporters listed) were not glorified stenographers.  These were not neutral men.  These were men who did in their day, what the best of journalists still try to do in this one – evaluate, analyze, un-scramble assess, put together a coherant picture or a challenging question using the facts as they can be best discerned, plus their own honesty and conscience.

That’s the ultimate truth.  great reporting is done from a place of subjectivity.  With the internet, we now have a point where great reporters can get us their positions, while giving us the ability to look at the information that they got, and come to our own conclusions.

Don’t just report “facts.”  It is too easy to fail to understand that the truth and facts are so completely different.  We are a better people than that.

Peace out,

Lefty

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