Despite some of the dark side of my background (a long-term penal incarceration, for example), I can still speak about both truth and journalism.
In my lifetime, I have been the recipient of the George Polk, ABA Silver Gavel, Robert F. Kennedy, and Sidney Hillman journalism awards. I am the co-author of two books and my writings have appeared in law journals, medical journals, magazines, and newspapers. My writing has also appeared in the same format with Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Bill Moyers, and Cornell West. I shared an ABC Nightline program, hosted by Ted Koppel, with the late Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Warren Burger.
That should be license enough to speak about the subject of truth and journalism.
Writing, journalism, history and experience have taught me that truth is not permanent; that it evolves with knowledge gained through research—more often than not, scientific research.
Before Donald Trump took to his aptly named right-leaning social media platform, Truth Social on Tuesday to blast his ex-press secretary and now Fox News host, Kellian McEnany for knowingly giving “wrong” poll numbers on the gap between him and his new presidential campaign opponent Ron Desantis, Trump was apart of a town hall.
The May 13, 2023, CNN “town hall meeting” with a former president should teach American society that social media, totalitarian political figures, racist ideologies, and a resurgence of patently false conspiracy theories (which have always lurked in the underbelly of America) have over the last decade or so put truth in a state of perpetual decay.
The RAND Corporation defines “truth decay” as “the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life.”
RAND says truth decay occurs because:
- Increasing disagreement about facts
- A blurring of the line between opinion and fact;
- The increasing relative volume and resulting influence of opinion over fact; and
- Declining trust in formerly respected sources of facts.
Historical and social truths are not always a reliable metric for measuring actual truth.
The victor in war and social conflicts assumes the right to record historical and social truths in the eye of the beholder—recordings that are seldom grounded in reality or fact.
Turkey to this day denies it committed the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians in World War I—some through massacres, some through starvation, and others through forced marches.
The Armenian genocide is a worldwide accepted “truth” except in Turkey where more than a century later the country says a genocide did not occur in the war conflict with a death count that is quite a bit fewer than what the rest of the world has calculated.
The lesson here is: truth is often polluted by the passage of time, embellished through oral history, and corrupted by political power.
Thus, journalists should never accept historical and social truth as fact by depending on one source. Truth, like a diamond, must be dug from the ground up.
Journalism must return to what Carl Bernstein described as “source journalism”—reliance upon people and entities to gather facts rather than a dependence upon social media, such as Wikipedia, to fact gather.
A journalist speaking to a “person source” can quickly ascertain if the person has a personal or political agenda in the dissemination of information. That’s why information gained from a “person source” should, and must, be corroborated by another, independent source.
A “narrative truth” in journalism, to be reliable, must be formulated through as much fact-based information as possible, thoroughly examined and analyzed through the journalist’s own logic and reason, and assembled free of any subjective feelings and personal biases the journalist may have.
Truth-seeking, whether in journalism or scientific research, begins with rational, logical questions from the truth seeker.
Leo Tolstoy once said that, “truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.”
Questions lead to the truth.
It takes intellectual ability and courage for a journalist, or a researcher, to lay aside their subjective notions of truth and seek the truth through questions from reliable, independent sources. As Tolstoy instructed, wash away all that is not truth, regardless of its individual impact, and report all that is true.
CNN’s “This Morning” host Kaitlan Collins courageously tried to do that in a May 13 environment that was not only unreceptive but openly hostile to the truth, as evidenced by the crowd’s derisive laughter and loud hand-clapping.
An angry crowd cannot imagine, much less see the truth.
The January 6 insurrection crowd demanded “hang Mike Pence” based on a lie that he had a constitutional power that he did not possess. The Pence lie served a purpose that truth could not.
It has been said in numerous arenas that the search for truth begins with self-reflection. It has also been said that truth lies in the core of philosophy, such as the great trio of Greek philosophers, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle.
In other words, the search for truth begins within and expands outward—a fact-gathering path that leads to a reliable conclusion. Truth is never found in what “should be” but in “what is.”
The common saying “it is what it is” is a fair gauge of the truth – a broken toe is a broken toe, regardless of how much we would like it to simply be a bruised toe.
In a real sense, there can be no blending of what should be and what is.
Daniel Webster once said that “there is nothing so powerful as truth – and often so strange.”
That is precisely why truth-telling demands courage, an ability to speak and report, “it is what it is.”
In his 1949 novel 1984, George Orwell wrote: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.”
America must decide if this is the kind of dystopian society it wants to be—up is down, losing is winning, and night is day. A kind of society in which “it is what it is” is replaced by “it is what we say it is.”
In 1710, Jonathan Swift warned that: “Falsehoods flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late …”