Thursday, February 22, 2018

Raif: We ignore the truth at our own peril

Feb. 3, 2018 at 12:04 a.m.

"Fake news! Fake news!"How many times have we heard or read that lately? It seems to me the term is used most often for the speaker to deny any culpability for his or her actions. It also seems there are many in the United States who would like to silence all those whose opinions and politics differ from their own.

Past terms for news have been "yellow journalism," "muckracking" and worse. When we form an opinion or belief based solely on what we read, what does that say about us? Too much public rhetoric now is based on a lack of facts, personal opinion, or to sway someone else's opinion to the speaker's or writer's own.

The New York Times and The Washington Post have been slammed for distorting the news, particularly that regarding members of Congress or the president. But how would we as a society be if we always heard only one side of the story? Suppose I vehemently disagree with you. How would each of us back up our belief or opinion? Shooting each other isn't the answer. Neither is using law enforcement to quiet the other one.

The media is both the answer and the problem. Some newspapers and television newscasts are slanted in their reporting. TV journalists can have as guests those with whom they agree. After all, they're looking for ratings. It seems many conservatives like Fox News, while others won't touch it with a 10-foot pole. Conservatives might feel the same about MSNBC.

How do we find out the truth, even if it differs from our beliefs? The first thing is to hold the media accountable. If they report hearsay, they need to acknowledge it. Unfortunately, we cannot hold social media services such as Twitter accountable for what is published on their sites. Nor do we really want to. We should have freedom to say what we want, unless it meets the standard criteria of shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

Many times we cannot believe "experts." I'm thinking particularly of conservative pastors who preach that certain people are absolutely right because they agree with the pastors' interpretation of the Bible. Even now many Christians say God is changing Trump. If so, he's having a hard time doing it. Meantime, what morals, priorities and ethics are our young people being exposed to? Trump is not the only one guilty of gaming politics for his own interests.

Trump also is not the first immoral president. I think most of us over a certain age remember seeing Bill Clinton saying, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." His definition of sexual relations must have been different from ours. But he was not removed from office.

This past week my husband and I saw the movie "The Post." It was riveting. I truly could feel the anguish of Katherine Graham wrestling with the decision whether to publish the Pentagon Papers. Her first consideration was that her newspaper could be destroyed and she would not be able to pass The Washington Post on to her children. She kept trying to decide what her father (who began the Post) or her husband (who inherited it) would do. Finally, she came to a decision.

We have the benefit of history on our side now. The Pentagon Papers, and the subsequent theft of Democratic papers at the Watergate, revealed the unethical, distorted, criminal mind of our president and brought him down. If the public had not been able to read about Nixon's decision and orders, what would have happened to us as a people? How would that have influenced what happened in the future? How many other times in the intervening years have we chosen to believe what congressmen and "talking heads" have said because that is what we wanted to believe, not necessarily because it was right?

The answer is research, research, research. I'm a news junkie, so I follow a story in several ways. What prompted the person to say what he or she said? What was the context? What did this person really mean? What was the person trying to accomplish? What were the unintended consequences? It's hard to believe a person's denial when we saw on TV the person actually saying it. There are fact checkers that give the exact law or reference to prove or disprove what a speaker says. But even then, some would say the true facts are fake news.

When we believe only what we want to, for whatever reason, where will we end up as a people?

— Gayle Raif, a Longview resident, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum.



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