According to legend, Ernest Hemingway arrived in Paris three days before the Allied Armies did. A trip to Paris in 1986 seemed like a great opportunity to do the fan's attempt to conjure up the spirit of the famous writer but we did not anticipate a chance to do any serious fact checking. While visiting Harry's New York Bar, an old fellow caught us off guard when he said that he had inherited the place from his father and when he, the present owner, was a child, he had sat on Mr. Hemingway's lap while the famous writer told stories. We were so engrossed in his descriptions of the repeated encounters with the young but already famous writer, that we missed the chance to ask him if Hemingway had actually arrived before the Allied Armies. The Liberty Valance rule made doing any fact checking seem like heresy. When facts and legend contradict each other, always print the legend.
Recently Fox News' Bill O'Reilly had become a subject for fact checking by his associates and the consensus opinion seems to be that there is a credibility gap being generated which, in turn, tarnishes Fox News' reputation.
Brian Williams has been suspended from the anchor chair at NBC Nightly News because he claims that he rode on a helicopter in a war zone that received enemy fire. The account has been challenged by others who are qualified to confirm or refute the specifics of Williams' story.
Since Williams works for a news organization that is perceived as "pro-Liberal," the conservatives are making the assertion that Williams has rendered NBC's credibility to the nil level.
If Charles Manson (hypothetically speaking) were to deliver a news report that provided undeniable evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald was not working alone when he shot JFK, would the fact that most people do not approve of Manson's ethics and personal conduct be sufficient to invalidate the remarkable report?
There is a certain amount of irony to be derived from noticing that the two different reactions to the veracity of the two journalist comes at the same time that CBS will mark the sixty-first anniversary of what many consider to be the high water mark for American Journalism: Edward R. Murrow's report on Sen. Joseph McCarthy broadcast on March 9, 1954. (Google: "See It Now" McCarthy report)
During WWII, Murrow risked death and infuriated his bosses by going on a bombing mission over Berlin. (Google hint: "Edward Murrow orchestrated hell")
Conservatives assert that Brian Williams has committed "stolen valor" with his bragging. They give full and complete absolution to O'Reilly and ignore the long list of war correspondents that died covering various wars over the course of history.
The conservative tendency for holding two opposing points of view simultaneously (called "double think" by George Orwell) can best be illustrated by the old axiom: "My wife's married, but I'm not."
Would Gerda Taro, Robert Capa, and Ernie Pyle be inclined to blithely dismiss the idea that O'Reilly is stealing valor from the list of war correspondents who were killed in action?
Speaking of war stories of valor and daring, we wonder how General Douglas McArthur got the nickname "Dugout Dug."
Once, on NPR radio, we heard the story of a fellow who was assigned to defend a pass where an attack was expected. He had a machine gun and was credited with single handedly killing more than 600 enemy soldiers in one night. Some people think the guy should have gotten a Medal of Honor.
The fictional character Baron Munchausen was renowned for telling absurd stories that had an extreme flavor of outrageousness to them buttressed by a thread of logic that made them seem (theoretically) possible.
In a bookstore in San Francisco, earlier this week, we noticed a new book which promised to teach the art of storytelling to sales reps.
St. Ronald Reagan was a superb story teller. He told one story about campaigning for President in Iowa. He knocked on a farmer's door and when the fellow was flabbergasted by his famous caller, he had a senior moment and couldn't think of the former actor's name. St. Reagan gave the baffled fan a clue: "Do the initials R R help?" The fellow broke into a large smile and turned and shouted into the interior of the home: "Momma, come quick and meet Roy Rogers!"
Misleading people for fun and votes might seem a tad misguided to some journalists. The philosophy that "we report; and let you decide" is a bit deceptive because it assumes that everyone in the audience is capable of doing their own quality analysis. "We distort and let you jump to wrong conclusions" would be a more ingenuous slogan.