Finding The Truth Is Not Easy p. 11

By: M.L. STEIN NEWSPAPERS DON'T KNOW how to handle public figures "who lie with a straight face" and thus become part of the lie themselves, Ben Bradlee, former Washington Post executive editor, told a university audience.
According to Bradlee, most newspapers have bungled or finessed such reporting, a failing that hit its zenith during the Vietnam War.
"Newspapers don't tell the truth under many different, and occasionally innocent, scenarios. Mostly when they don't know the truth," said Bradlee, in giving the annual Riverside Press-Enterprise lecture on the University of California campus.
The press also missteps when it quotes someone who doesn't know the truth or who is spinning the truth to omit details that could be embarrassing, a practice that is growing, he continued.
"There is a lot of spinning and a lot of lying in our times ? in politics, government, sports and everywhere," Bradlee contended. "It's got to the point where if you are like me, you no longer believe the first version of anything."
Political lying began flowering in the Vietnam era when the government felt it had to lie to justify a policy "that was never going to work," he recalled.
From that point, Bradlee observed, public lying has mushroomed to include schools, colleges, churches, businesses, sexual relations "and of course, the press."
"Even the best newspapers have never learned how to handle public figures who lie with a straight face," said the man who engineered the Watergate investigation. "And even the boldest editorial pages
. . . are reluctant to strike hard and fast. So we have to wait, searching aggressively for ways to prove the lie,and in the process we alienate those who don't believe or don't want to believe the lie."
Instead of calling a lie a lie, Bradlee said, papers resort to euphemisms, referring to lying statements as being inaccurate, incomplete or unreliable.
Two current instances, he pointed out, involve House Speaker Newt Gingrich's false denial that his political action committee was not involved in his college course, and the Democratic National Committee's "lurid fund-raising problems" in which foreigners contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to President Clinton's re-election campaign in defiance of the law.
The White House alone, he asserted, gave three different versions of a meeting between senior Clinton aides and officials of the president's defense fund to discuss questionable donations.
"Where lies the truth?" Bradlee asked. "That's the question that pulled us into this business, as it propelled Diogenes through the streets of Athens looking for an honest man."
But the press' search for truth earns it few plaudits, the speaker suggested, noting that the more aggressive newspapers become, the more some people are offended by them.
Still, he said, as issues become more complicated and more sophisticated ways are devised to disguise the truth, "the more aggressive our search for truth must be, and the more offensive we are sure to become to some."
"So be it. I take great strength from . . . knowing in my experience that the truth does emerge. It takes forever sometimes, but it does emerge. Any relaxation by the press will be extremely costly to democracy."
Former Washington Post editor derides those who lie with a straight face
?("There is a lot of spinning and a lot of lying in our times ? in politics, government, sports and everywhere. It's got to the point where if you are like me, you no longer believe the first version of anything.") [Caption]
?(-Ben Bradlee, former Washington Post editor) [Photo & Caption]


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