All this past month, since our rude Epiphany at the Capitol, my thoughts have been captured by this question: how do we bridge the cultural divide in this country before it ruptures? The divide has been with us since the first civil war and before. In fact, I think the divide is always with us, even within us. That’s why it’s so painful.
That we can’t agree on the validity of the election bothers me most. It’s one thing for the former president to have trouble admitting he lost. We could write him off as a sore loser, which he is, or a spoiled baby or whatever and let history have its way with him. It’s another thing entirely to have large sections of the electorate and their elected representatives still believing he did not lose, believing that the election was rigged by some conspiracy among bedeviled liberals whose media do not report the real news. It’s crazymaking to have all these people believing unreal news from media that do not hold to any journalistic standards of truth or the proper ways to convey it.
Luckily, last week I stumbled into a copy of Walter Cronkite’s autobiography, A Reporter’s Life (1996). Cover to cover, the story of his journey through journalism as it evolved, from newspaper to radio to television, is a story of the importance of the profession in maintaining democracy. It is also a story of the trials journalism faces every day of its life, as people in power work to skew the news—the truth and its conveyance to the public—to their advantage.
I think Walter Cronkite was born to be a truthteller. Early in the book he told about his first encounter with white supremacy when his family moved from Kansas City, Mo. to Houston. At 10 years of age, he could see the difference between racism, from which we all suffer and must work to overcome, to the brutal, inhuman treatment of blacks by whites in the South. He saw that news from Black lives did not matter there, never appeared in print or was heard via radio waves. He saw, in fact, that the news itself had no real life in that oppressive society, and he left.
His story as a newsman, a reporter, included the build-up to World War II, bombing raids across the English Channel, the post-war round-up of Nazis and the Nuremburg trials, two years in Moscow under tight Soviet control. It included the post-war U.S. political conventions, the presidencies of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Carter, Bush and Clinton, as well as the many candidates who ran against them. It included world leaders and the issues that brought them to our dining tables. It included the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam protests, wars and peace treaties. It included some of the most respected names in television journalism.
As I read the book, I couldn’t help but realize what a privileged life I’ve led because of this one man and his commitment to telling the truth. He helped the profession to stay the course, in print media as well as broadcasting. I still have some reason to believe what I read and hear, whereas those raised on the internet versions of truth do not.
One benefit of the Capitol rampage is that we can see how necessary it is to distinguish the truth from fiction in the media. I think we need to re-teach the ways to discern facts from fiction and to require the media to distinguish themselves in this regard. It may be that all the American public really wants is entertainment—Walter Cronkite also faced that potentially rude fact of life from TV producers and network executives. But enough of us can see now what’s at stake if we do not support a free, independent and responsible press. Let us press on, and keep this critical portion of our American life intact and functioning.
Trudy Wischemann is an essayist who relies on facts for her opinions. You can send her your fact discernment struggles c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.