My Swiss friend, Reuben Leuchter, was offered a position at a Jewish institution of higher learning which was known to be heavily in debt. Before responding, he checked with an acquaintance who was a former employee of that school. The fellow told him, "Take the job and you'll be fine, but just remember one thing. No matter how inconvenient it is for you to come in on payday, you must be there to pick up your check in person on that day."
"Really? Why?" my friend wondered.
"Because on payday it's salary and salary comes first, as the Bible says. But a day later it's just a new debt and then you go to the back of the line!"
That piquant observation provides an insight which is key to understanding the press and its infrequent flirtations with the truth. Once again we see how the story of a horrible bungle by the Obama administration has turned into a referendum on whether Mitt Romney was too quick to criticize. As observers we are astonished by this persistent commitment of a free press to voluntarily corrupt truth in favor of a particular political viewpoint.
Truth is the only path to knowledge, to understanding, to growth, to correction, to acceptance, to all good things. In a free society, we rely desperately on reporters to deliver the news so we can assess just where we are at any given moment. We cannot be in all places at all times but some rootless vagabond who works for NBC can, even as he dreams of someday sitting in one place every night next to a beautiful anchorwoman. That geek has a sacred duty to bring us the truth without fear or favor. Unfortunately, like most sacred duties, that one is honored these days in the breach.
Yet here and there the power of truth forces it to the surface. In what Rush Limbaugh has taken to calling "random acts of journalism" we are periodically treated to flashes of dazzling accuracy in media. Some of the most reliable leftist outposts can suddenly, shockingly, tell some truth.
But as my friend's story reminds us, the truth can only be found on the first day. Particularly on the Internet, where news finds its way immediately, we get one screen shot of reality before the murk machine begins its muddying. I guess the first day it's news but the second day it's analysis, the first day it's fact and henceforth it is interpretation.
One of the most fascinating culprits in this area is Associated Press headline writing. Follow any AP story on your favorite news site and watch the headline morph. Usually it starts out something like GLOOMY JOB REPORT WEIGHING ON STOCKS. After a while it becomes EMPLOYMENT FIGURES GOOD BUT LESS THAN EXPECTED. Finally it settles in at JOB REPORT POINTS TO PATTERN OF LONG-TERM RECOVERY.
In the Egypt and Libya story several days ago, this approach was seen clearly. The initial reports told of the chaos at the embassies, the cluelessness of diplomatic staff and the misguided effort to have the embassies offer negative reviews of the Muhammed movie as a strategy to avoid fire in the theater of operations. We even read that the rioters chanted, "Obama, we are all Osamas now."
This inflammatory material, with its bad vibe for the Obama-Clinton foreign policy brain trust, has been broomed now in favor of the revisionist version. It's all about Mitt having a fit, Mitt being in a snit, Mitt picking a nit. The second coming of Jimmy Carter has just piled up four corpses in the midst of its Arab Springtime but the only culprit who has been apprehended was Willard Romney, using his gangsta name of "Mitt."
Mock me if you will but I still cling to a naïve hope that a generation of reporters can be taught to love truth more than whatever blandishments are offered by its competitors. For now we have to settle for peeks into those little windows of time where the wash is clean and fresh, before the spin cycle begins.
In parting, I should mention that a friend of mine asked the late Rabbi Chaim Zimmerman, a genius scholar and wit, whether historians could be trusted to convey the past accurately. He answered: "If the papers are already lying about what happened yesterday, what hope is there of the truth being told a hundred years later?"
Dedicated to the memory of my mother, Ruth Homnick, a lover of truth, on the 44th anniversary of her passing.