The elusive truth

Right around the time I was hearing on TV that Ryan Lochte may have concocted part if not all of his story about being robbed in Rio, I was reading in Terry McDonell’s book “The Accidental Life” that author Ken Kesey (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) liked to say some things were “true even if they never really happened.”
You may be tempted to ask if I really watch TV and read a book at the same time. I do. But this is not about that. Forget that. This is about the truth.
As someone who’s spent just about three-quarters of his life in a profession supposed to be dedicated to the truth (journalism), I want to say the truth is not what you think it is, but the “truth” is, that’s exactly what it is. And that’s the problem.
The truth is always what you think it is. And that means it is a different thing to different people.
I will be telling my mass communications students just that in a few weeks.
I will borrow from the take Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice (“Jesus Christ Superstar”) put on the encounter between Pontius Pilate and Christ. When Pilate asks Jesus what he is all about, Jesus responds, “I came to testify to the truth.”
Pilate’s answer, I tell the students, just might be the best lesson they will ever learn.
He says, “We all have our truths. Are yours the same as mine?”
If that is so, and it most certainly is, then what’s a journalist to do?
For an answer, I also turn to the movies.
I ask the students what Indiana Jones does for a living. He is, one or two will know, a college professor and an archaeologist. In one of his movies, I believe it is “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” he tells his students the truth is such an elusive thing archaeologists never go in search of it. Rather, they go in search of facts.
It’s the same with journalists, I tell my own students. We seek facts and present them to the public who out of those facts will deduce their own views on the truth.
That’s the best we can hope for. And actually, all that is asked or expected of us.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple,” Oscar Wilde wrote.
But facts are facts.

Ed Ackerman