Principally because 35 years of newspapering teach an editor a lot of things, among them that no one especially gives a damn what he or she thinks, especially on the subject of politics.
This is particularly true in the modern milieu. Social media is a sea of everyone’s thoughts on everything. Cable news has become unwatchable with its formula the equivalent of a horse ridden hard and put away wet — a blow-dried anchor and two irksome yappers, one on the left and another on the right, yammering about the latest outrage. Everywhere we are confronted with what someone thinks about something.
No wonder teenage boys and so many of their fathers race for the escape of video games. America, too, is unwatchable. The county is a caricature of itself, shaped like Silly Putty by two sides shouting and shaking fists at one another while politicians, striking their usual profiles in courage, scramble to appear as though they believe, like televangelists performing their schtick for the cameras.
My world, what’s left of the professional side of it, isn’t about what we think but what we know, or at least that’s what I was taught, not in some academic setting by some guy with elbow patches on his sport coat, indicative of great thoughts, but by crotchety old editors quick to call out youthful ignorance in unambiguous and profane terms. No journalism teacher could match them. Their lessons were indelible.
Foremost was the simple message of getting it right. Facts are stubborn things, and a reporter had better stick to them or else face the uncensored wrath of an editor with the bedside manner of a barracuda. Those editors of yore, reeking of cigarettes and stale coffee, didn’t give a damn what a reporter thought or felt. By God, the story had better be right. That’s the kind of teaching that sticks in the mind like a good meal does to the ribs.
Still, back in those long-lost days before everyone was frittering and Twittering, one side would have had you believe that no one in our business cared about facts, that we were all using the medium to promulgate the world view of those eggheads with the elbow patches, that we were all part of some conspiracy, a cabal, to further an agenda bent on raising Stalin from the dead and turning Washington into Leningrad.
People in my line of work have heard that kind of talk forever, though it’s reached a fever pitch in predictable corners. These are the same corners where people declare, as an elected official did recently in a private conversation with this company’s top brass, “There’s science, and there’s reality.”
Not that it matters, but here is Webster’s definition of science: “systematized knowledge derived from observation, study and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied.”
How precisely does one reason with someone who sees a distinction between systematized knowledge and reality? Does reason matter at all in an era when reality isn’t a thing that is but a thing that people individually define for themselves?
Don’t worry. I’m not venturing an answer. I’m staying with those editors of old. They left navel-gazing to philosophers, professors and others lost in the space between their ears.
It is in their footsteps we walk in our newsrooms. We are ruled by facts and the overarching objective to get it right all the time, every time. If we falter, we correct our error. If you don’t like the facts, if you discern a difference between science and reality, you are free to bellow at us from the highest rooftop. We’ll give you leave to do it in our own pages.
But you won’t change us. We’ll keep delivering you objective truth, or as close as we are able to get to it. Amid the spectacles of modern government and society, we will stand on facts and stick to them.
Lee Wolverton is vice president of news and executive editor of HD Media.