Dragnet. Just the facts, ma’am as Sgt. Friday would say interviewing a crime victim running off into endless digressions.
“I was just outside, hanging up the laundry when this masked man comes running over from Mrs. Barnacle’s house and… you know, Mrs. B, she’s an old gossip. Why just the other day do you know what she said about that crazy old Mr. Riley?”
Just the facts, ma’am.
At the paper, in the radio newsrooms, then the television newsrooms, then the network news centers and especially at the Associated Press…
Just the facts, kid.
That was Rule One.
Rule two: every story has two sides and each side has to have a chance to tell its version.
(Actually, there was only one rule: “Get it first. But get it right first.” But this is commentary so it doesn’t count.)
Today, we live in a world of Teflon coated rubber facts.
So what’s a reporter to do?
Example: Four years ago, a pretty co-ed was on a high floor balcony and fell to the ground. She was seriously hurt, went through years of rehab and now has graduated.
But wait. Do we put in these “facts?”: She was too young to drink legally, she was out of her mind drunk. People kept giving her booze.
The answer: yes. Even if we extrapolated a bit when it came to her degree of drunkenness, the length and breadth of her rehab and whether she was graduated or “socially promoted.”
Okay. Little local story. Could have been handled better. Not much lost.
But what about these:
--Low interest rates are going to cause catastrophic inflation and the answer is to cut so- called entitlement programs.
That a fact? Well, it hasn’t happened in eight years of historically low interest rates.
--Social Security is going to go belly up in X-years if we don’t cut benefits and/or extend the retirement age.
That a fact?
--Taxing the rich creates more jobs.
--Raising the minimum wage means massive job cuts.
No it doesn’t. Or it hasn’t since 1938 when 25 cents an hour (about four bucks in today’s money) became the law of the land.
--Saddam Hussein helped Al Qaeda destroy the Trade Center and had weapons of mass destruction ready to fling around here, there and everywhere.
--Global warming is a hoax.
If so, why are people buying potential waterfront property in Rochester, New York, which is 500 miles from the nearest ocean?
--God created the world in seven days and that needs to be part of science curricula.
Gimme a break.
Sometimes we’re blocked from Rule One. Sometimes we’re too lazy to follow it. What, then of Rule Two?
We have come to be a society of fact ignorance. A place where salt free salt is a viable commodity. Where creationism is considered a science.
Do we give equal standing to the inflation fear mongers and those who de- mong them? Privatize the Post Office, the only constitutionally designated federal agency?
Does your kid, now 18 years old, have to work until he’s 93 to collect a federal pension that we’ve already paid for?
In these and many other examples, you can’t give equal credibility to both sides. But we do.
And a shocker: The best people at asymetrical coverage are at Fox. The only problem with that is they give greater credibility to the wrong “facts.”
Oh, Sgt. Friday, where are you now that we really need you.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
© WJR 2016. And that’s a fact.