Who owns the truth?

Who owns the truth?
: This is not a good day for big, old, traditional news media. It is, however, a good day for the truth.

The BBC accused the Blair government of lying about war when, in fact, the BBC lied about Blair. Now Lord Hutton has handed the Beeb its privates on a platter and we wait to see whether the blind, pompous, and self-righteous heads of BBC News — Gavyn Davies, Greg Dyke, and Richard Sambrook — plus the alleged reporter who started all this, Andrew Gilligan, first repudiate the lies, second apologize for lying, and third quit in shame. See many posts on this below.

And in New Hampshire, the big old media guys were proven way wrong today when the voters did what they said for months the voters wouldn’t do: vote for somebody other than Howard Dean. See John Podhoretz, below.

So the press didn’t give us the facts because, in one case, they lied and, in another case, they were just wrong.

The real mistake — the real sin of hubris here — comes when the press acts as if it owns the truth.

It doesn’t.

Nobody does. Many people try — some more honestly, earnestly, and reliably then others — to find the truth. Some people, like Andrew Gilligan and Jayson Blair, try not to.

But in the end, the truth is a high standard, hard to reach, and an honest soul will admit to failing to reach it, or least to the need to keep trying.

This is what I mean when I say (too much, I confess) that news is a conversation. It’s not as if, once the oracle who owns the press or the broadcast tower speaks, we have heard the truth and can stop the search for it. Of course, we can’t. It takes time and openness and curiosity and effort and a great deal of back and forth with contributions from many diverse sources and viewpoints adding onto each other to perhaps pile up to the truth.

Yes, the web and weblogs, with their ability to reach out to unlimited sources and viewpoints, can help with that process. They are no more the truth’s sole salvation that big media was. But they can more loudly announce when big media fails.

The mistake, again, is acting as if you own the truth, for when you fail, the fall is a long one. The BBC acted as if it — not its government and not American media, either — owned the truth. And now it is in free-fall.

All of this is simply to say that in this new media world of instant updates with the ability to change and correct news at any time and with many viewpoints and the ability to link to them anywhere, it’s more important than ever for the media to be transparent and open and to recognize that the news is a two-way street and the truth is a process.

So rather than ending newscasts saying, “That’s the way it is,” perhaps the best thing to do is to open newscasts saying, “We don’t know but we think…”

  • Now Lord Hutton has handed the Beeb its privates on a platter
    Wow. Thanks a lot for that mental image.

  • Raj

    Well said. The BBC made this mess, not by broadcasting the original report but by being unwilling to even consider that it was wrong or to examine the evidence,whilst defending itself.

  • Richard Cook

    A little bit ‘o competition might help the Beeb. Should start with getting rid of the Beeb tax on all TV owners.

  • I was listening a LOT to this, today, live — on the BBC! (in Slovakia). What IS the process of getting rid of the heads of the Beeb? They are, after all, controlling a LOT of TV-payer, involuntarily collected funding.
    On another note, estimates about the future are never really “lies”. And motivations shouldn’t be included as “facts” — what one does, or not, is a fact. Actions leave enough interpretation to facts.
    But news, “what happened”, is not really conversation. Why news is important, or interesting, or how it might affect the future, all of which are more significant, usually, than the bare facts — THAT is the conversation.
    The words of Lord Hutton’s report, & Blair’s speech, are facts. What does it ‘mean’ — meaning, what do you think will happen int the future, NOW that these facts have happened (or you learn of them); now what will happen?

  • Jeff, I have to give you credit for understanding that bad news reporting and commentary is not necessarily, and probably rarely, pure malevolence.
    Hubris is all about me being the big dog by stepping on the other doggie’s tail. It supersedes self-righteousness becoming blatant narcissism. This is NOT restricted to one type of medium. It can and does occur in mass media, blogging and conversations over the back fence.
    This is why I refer to blogging as: Hubris for Tyros
    DH – Kerry and Edwards = the plan to dethrone Bush

  • Ebb Tide

    Thanks for those links Jeff, I was able to listen to Blair’s statement to parliament while reading it, since it helped me understand it a lot better… since I wasn’t keeping up with the story all along… It was great they got the Hutton report out so quickly, it did a lot to show the liars were the BBC and not the Blair government, now they can MOVE ON and have their debate about the war, wmd, etc without the LIES corrupting the facts.
    Most seriously this Hutton report shows that the media is not fact checking and is squandering the trust that the people place in them for straight reporting! Too much sizzle, not enough steak. Pretty soon the consumers, the ones who care about it, will STOP consuming the media from those sources! Playing loose with the facts is something that will haunt them now! And it is a shame that all the reporters for the BBC will be “tarred by the same brush” much like what followed the Jayson Blair NY Times event.

  • Bryan Spencer

    In terms of ownership of the truth, I am reminded of local (Boston) NPR fundraising drives that included Daniel Schorr audio saying that NPR tells the news and tells the listener “what it means.” Just what sort of attitude underlies that comment is echoed in their promotions for NPR-led travels that tout the opportunity to travel “with other people who think like you do.” That’s a paraphrase, but captures the liberal bent they assume among listeners.

  • billg

    The punditocracy of the Big Ol’ Media was simply filling airtime and playing a guessing game reL New Hampshire. A bunch of mostly fat and happy white guys sitting around TV studios making predictions about New Hampshire is a device born of the same impetus that drives sports writers and announcers to fill equal amounts of airtime with predictions of which team will win, and why.
    Dean was correct when he called it entertainment. It’s the political junkie’s equivalent of a cooking show on Food Network. None of it really matters. The food, the games, the election… they’re what matters.

  • Catherine

    Bryan hits the nail on the head. I was discouraged from going into Journalism by a journalist because I was too conservative (liberal in the South, conservative in NYC). Journalism, she told me, was all about “railing against the machine, being antiestablishment.” Here I thought it was about what I learned in Junior High: Who, what, where, when and finding out why. She recently told me how she was excited that part of her new job would be visiting oil companies and we should, “imagine me, with all of those Jim Bob’s in 10 gallon hats.” In her mind, that’s what an oil executive looks like. Oh, yeah, searching for the truth, my ass.

  • Steel Magnolia

    “So rather than ending newscasts saying, ‘That’s the way it is’ perhaps the best thing to do is to open newscasts saying, ‘We don’t know but we think…'”
    I just wish they’d get back to saying “That’s the way it is,” instead of playing with their crystal balls and fantasizing “If’s & then’s.”