Alternate Facts

Alternate Facts

“The lowest form of popular culture—lack of information, misinformation, disinformation and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives – has overrun real journalism.” Carl Bernstein

newspapersPaul was an officious stiff, unattractively convinced of his own self-importance, as lawyers can be sometimes, but I did feel guilty when his wife, whom I had never met, cried over the phone when she tried to make me understand that he was just trying to do the right thing for the town and how could I write such awful things about her husband?  Didn’t realize a guy like that might have someone who loved him. So maybe I didn’t have the stomach for it after all.

The night before, working as a stringer for a daily paper, was typical. Attend a local planning board meeting; take copious notes in my official reporter’s pocket notebook, secure in the back of the hearing room as a cocky upstart of the fourth estate.  Run back to my 1956 Chevy pickup and drive to the newsroom office and join four or five others beating a midnight deadline for the morning paper. Bad coffee out of the machine with chemical cream, a cigarette smoldering in the ashtray and banging away with two fingers, we raced to keep it short with few adjectives, none of them purple, and long on finding some sort of headline to draw the reader’s interest and the advertiser’s money. Controversy was desirable, if not mandatory[i]. Though in high school and college I had gained typing proficiency with all hands-on-deck, in the newsroom only women reporters exhibited those skills. The guys eschewed full fingered participation, so I quickly revised my technique and picked up speed on the old shared typewriter using twenty percent of the digits available to me. Macho vanity has few limits. Editing was red lined, then cut and pasted with actual paste and scissors, sentence by sentence and paragraph on the final copy submitted to the typesetters.

I forget the details, something about a set-back requirement for an addition that was being infringed by a foot or two, and the board, led by Paul, barring a zoning appeals board effort, was about to cost the homeowner a large amount of money. I turned up what I saw as a conflict of interest from a previous kerfuffle between Paul, in his law practice, and the homeowner, while rummaging through the files at the newsroom doing a quick background search on old stories (real paper files way before Google or Lexis Nexis were even imagined, much less verbs). Throwing that perhaps unrelated story into the second paragraph, heedless of what effect the unproven connectedness of the two issues might have on the parties involved, I submitted the story, pleased the local news editor and went home. I had, after all, called Paul’s house for a comment, but for some reason they didn’t answer their phone at ten thirty.

I had established early on that to please an editor with his brutal red pencil, one had to write cleanly, try to get the facts straight, but be careful about which facts were included and which ones were avoided, especially if they conflicted with the editor’s ideology or preferences about local personalities. I was a fast learner. After a year or so, I understood I truly didn’t have the stomach for it and needed a real job for my small family.

“When I started working for Rolling Stone, I became very interested in journalism and thought maybe that’s what I was doing, but it wasn’t true. What became important was to have a point of view.” Annie Leibovitz

Recent polls have public confidence in news media at an all-time low. About fourteen percent of the population believes that they can believe what is in the papers or on the screen. I grew up thinking that although the New York Times and Boston Globe and CBS might have a leftward bias in their editorials, they strove to get it right in their news coverage. The “Gray Lady” wouldn’t tip the scales in their reporting of events, of facts, of actual happenings, right? Look at all those Pulitzers. As it turns out, I was wrong then, which was verified in my brief dalliance with the business, and now the public has such deep skepticism, we have no bulwark against propaganda, no filter for what is true and what is a campaign. Then we had at least the comfort of journalists being circumspect, but subtlety is no longer a veil that is even pretended: not even a pretense of objectivity nor an apology for the vacuum. The gloves are off, and no one has faith in anyone’s facts.

To our great detriment, the media feeds on disinformation and distrust, which in turn fans the flames of divisiveness and anger. Where do we turn? Whom do we believe?  Who do you trust? (With apologies to grammarian readers). Facebook rants and 140-character flatulence fills the void.

“Journalism, as concerns collecting information, differs little if at all from intelligence work. In my judgment, a journalist’s job is very interesting.”  Vladimir Putin [ii]


[i] The pressure on periodicals, newspapers and electronic media to attract readership and viewers has only  gotten more intense with a life and death struggle with social media competition for advertising dollars.

[ii] [ii] Ask Anna Politkovskaya and Paul Klebnikov how interesting Putin thinks journalism is.


Filed under Culture views, Personal and family life

5 responses to “Alternate Facts

  1. Rita Parquette

    Unfortunately, if we are not careful, the noise of news fake or true, is constant. 24 hour news cycles that continue to regurgitate the same stuff over and over again. FB and phones filled with the same stuff and constantly at hand… It’s certainly overwhelming to a 71 yr old who has always been a “news junkie”, but has recently cut down my exposure in an effort to keep myself from being cranked up on the one hand and depressed on the other. I just have to have a good book at hand all the time. There are withdrawal symptoms…that almost desperate urge to turn on the TV and see what’s happening in the world can overwhelm me, but after a few minutes of exposure I turn it off in disgust, grab my book or go for a walk.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anthony Vinson

    To begin, thanks for making the distinction between a news organization’s editorial stance and their reporting of the news. I have found that a great many people do not understand the concept.

    Once there was the news, now there is the news and entertainment industry. Walter Cronkite was a news anchor who famously masked his political philosophy and did not allow his personal political biases to taint his delivery of the day’s news. Cronkite was, at various times throughout his career, acknowledged to be among the most trusted people in the country. Today, at least to my knowledge, there are no anchors cut from that same cloth. In the current environment it is about the quest for viewers and advertising dollars. The news is too often supplanted by celebrity culture. Anchors are on-air personalities. We are treated with this or that actor or actress’s insipid analysis of current events, or a pop star or rapper’s less-than- insightful ruminations on foreign policy. Who cares? Well unfortunately lots of people care, or at least that’s how it appears since the cavalcade never ends.

    But we (the people; the dumb masses) asked for it. We voted with our dollars and networks and cable outlets obliged with more of the same. We absorbed Jerry Springer and Morton Downy Jr. We watched slack-jawed the trials of William Kennedy Smith and OJ Simpson. We were willing to sacrifice news reporting for celebrity culture. The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous fascinated us. Cops was a hit show with at least two spin-offs. We wanted more, more, more… And as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother musically suggested, “put ’em together and what have you got?” Why newsandentertainment, of course! (I use the collective We for effect. Not all of were guilty. At least of that!)

    Technology swallowed the print media. (I now electronically consume my daily Washington Post, and for a fraction of what I once paid for an actual printed newspaper.) Social media memes proved simple to construct and easy to digest. Attention spans shortened and grow even shorter still. Sound bites replaced in-depth analysis. Opinion pieces and editorials became indistinguishable from news reporting. The news cycle stretched to fill the day, the week, the world. Should we be surprised that a political candidate came along who understood how to exploit the situation? And methinks it will only get worse.

    I continue to subscribe to newspapers and print media and will do so for the foreseeable future. It is important, perhaps even more so than ever, that we support the Fourth Estate in their crusade to keep us informed and on our toes.

    To end, thanks for letting me ramble with a few random thoughts on your most recent post. I read them all even though I have backed off on my often long-winded responses.



    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think it is the media that has blurred the distinction between editorial writing and reporting, often by their choices as to what’s covered, what isn’t, what facts are reported, what facts are ignored because they don’t fit the narrative and what connections, erroneous or not, are inferred by juxtaposing them one next to the other. Those editing decisions are too frequently driven by ideological agendas.
    It seems to me the best shot at discerning some semblance of truth is to take in as much from disparate sources and interpolate as best one can, using the sniff test. So for me it’s NYT (occasionally LA Times or Washington Post articles), WSJ, BBC, NPR, Fox, CNN and a couple of periodicals (Economist, National Review) as time allows. Still an asymptotic process and a healthy skepticism, which I know is not a problem for you.. ;^)


  4. Mike Amaral

    Jack: Is this your best response to the recent news that Stephen Bannon & Donald Trump have declared that the media is the enemy of the American people?

    I’m left feeling an emptiness about what you did NOT say….

    If we normalize the rhetoric coming out of this crowd (Trump-Pence & Co.) by saying nothing, we could actually give our right to a free press away. The free press that you were once a part of here in Walpole.

    I’m sure that would make some folks happy, but I would also consider that highly Un-American (As do I consider this group in power to be Un-American).

    Please: Never trust a guy that thinks making fun of former American POWS is perfectly acceptable.

    Since you are the son of a former POW, your silence about Trumps comments on McCain being a POW concern me. How you could accept such behavior and not have it affect your opinions on what is coming out of this regime?

    Trump exposed his black heart and intentions then, and Pence & Co. didn’t blink an eye. Silence most often means agreement.

    I’m sure there is more blackness and evil intent to come. Journalists need to expose this. Not avoid commentary about it.

    The black trash bag flag of protest is flying on my house until all of these people are gone.

    Your Brother In-Law

    Mike Amaral


  5. The purpose of the post had much more to do with the agenda driven press and media on all sides than on Trump. Just the coverage of the Women’s March vis a vis the March for Life shows that bias in clear relief. And I saw it from the inside, how the facts are reflected in a funny mirror and very carefully selected and others ignored to conform to the favored narrative. That really is a given and beyond dispute. Anyone who’s ever been the subject of misquotes and quotes out of context or events and timelines jumbled and juxtaposed to infer relationships that may or may not exist in a newspaper story knows the pain.

    Not everything is about Trump; I think that particular obsessive myopia is paralyzing us. I’ve posted views on him back in the primaries a year ago.

    I have a humble, small hope we might get a SCOTUS appointment, who is a constitutional interpreter rather than a progressive activist. Obamacare is failing and has to be fixed one way or another, so that will happen of its own weight. Other than that, on va voir.

    Would I prefer another president? Absolutely. Almost anybody but the choices left to us at the end.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.