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So, What’s the Truth?

Years ago, I studied news writing and reporting with Bob Taylor. Bob had been a successful television news reporter and editor (news manager) in Chicago, Illinois, before he came to the University of Nebraska J-school (journalism school). Bob wasn’t much to look at: he was short and small. But he was sharp – someone who understands things and thinks quickly. He knew good reporting (giving information about people and events) and good writing, and it was a privilege to learn from him.

Bob had two standards (what he expected from us): accuracy (to be correct or true) and brevity (ability to say something in a few words).

I’ll never forget his reaction when he read a news story that said some teenagers had “kept warm by burning newspapers” when they had to spend the night (stay all night) in their car after it got stuck in the snow. “Maybe they kept from freezing,” he said, “but they certainly didn’t keep warm by burning newspapers when the temperature was below freezing (0C/32F)!

I tried – and failed – to impress Bob with my brevity just once. I had spent the day (used the whole day) covering (collecting information for the news) the Nebraska state legislature (the people who make laws). When I returned to the newsroom (place for writing news stories), I summarized the whole day in three sentences. I proudly walked up to Bob’s desk, handed him my story, and waited. He looked at it – it didn’t take long! – looked up at me, and said, “I know politicians don’t do much, but they certainly did more than that!”

News writing and reporting seem to have changed a lot since my days in Bob Taylor’s class. Then, we talked a lot about our responsibility to understand the world around us and to clearly explain it to our audience – our readers (newspapers), listeners (radio), and viewers (television) – so they could understand it.

We knew we couldn’t be completely objective because it’s difficult to keep your feelings and beliefs from affecting what you report. But we could try. And we knew that we all had biases – opinions about people or ideas that influenced how we thought and wrote. But we could always try to be fair (treat everyone in a way that’s right or equal) and balanced (give equal attention to all sides or opinions). And we could always work hard to uncover and report the truth.

Today, many news sources don’t even try to be objective. In the U.S., many people agree that MSNBC and Fox News – two popular cable news channels – are biased and promote a particular point of view (way of thinking). And not too long ago, the host (person who talks to the guests) of a popular Sunday morning interview program, (where a reporter asks questions of important politicians and other newsmakers) clearly stated (said) that he has no responsibility to try to find out if his guests are telling the truth. He says that’s the viewer’s job.

Now the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times newspaper is trying to return truth to the news with a new web site – PolitiFact.com. When politicians and political writers or commentators (people who give their opinion on radio/television) say something they question (don’t believe), the Politifact reporters check it out (try to find the truth). When they do, they report it on their web site.

Politifact also tracks (searches for and follows) promises made by politicians. During the 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama made more than 500 promises! The Politifact Obameter reports how well the president is keeping his promises (doing what he said he would do). They recently added a GOP Pledge-O-Meter to track the promises made by Republican leaders to help the Republican party take control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election.

If you want to know the truth about what American newsmakers say, the Politifact web site is a good place to start. It’s very informative and fun. I hope you take some time to explore it.

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English, where you can find clear explanations and helpful suggestions for better English.

Credit: definitions for this post come from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.

Photo of Walter Conkrite, famous TV news reporter, from pingnews is used under Creative Commons license.

31 Responses to “So, What’s the Truth?”

  1. Karl, Austria Says:

    Hello Warren,

    unfortunately it is very common, that politicians do not live up to their promises and newspapers report on fake stores. Perhaps these Pledge-O-Meters help improving the situation. Poiticians and journalists who act honestly and and seriously should benefit and those who don’t should be voted out of office.

  2. Peter Says:

    Happy 2011 Warren,
    Nice story you got there
    In fact,This is the coolest u ever been:)))
    Just joking around
    Bob Tayler is a household name
    Back the he was famous , I guess.
    Thanks for the input.
    Good show

  3. Peter Says:

    By the way Warren ,
    I am taking up some English students.
    I know I stink at it . It is just a try-out
    I have a mockup business card.if it picks up I will turn it to my actual business card.
    I don’t know
    Just hit me
    I finally got up the nerve to do so.
    I m just getting my feet wet.

  4. emiliano Says:

    Incredible good Podcast number 647- Using a smartphone.

    Thank you Lucy by the scrip and Jeff reading it, it has all the new vocabulary about the smartphones and other devices like Ipad or Kindle telling us what the acronyms are.
    It´s delighful and it gives us the practical point of view of a real practical woman who has her feet on the ground and how men use to be like little childs with a new toy.
    We men look to the new devices with our mouths watering and sometimes we don´t care about the real practical use of them.

    I am more or less like Jasom about the new devices with lot of features and Cuca is Hitomi.

    ——–

    Happy New Year Warren, I have to read slowly your article that seems to me also incredible good.
    I have seen the websites that you mentioned and we would like to have any similar here in Spain
    where not any politician fulfill their promises.
    They lie and lie once and again continuosly, without any kind of shame.
    But what is even worst they could say a thing and the contrary in same speech, that´s the top
    of falsehood.

    Interesting and controversial topic indeed, Warren.
    Thank you so much.

    emiliano

  5. Peter Says:

    It is so true when the make promises they don’t maintain them.
    That the reason they always botch up what they swear to do perfectly.

  6. Peter Says:

    Warren,you don’t know how good you have it.
    Here ,it is snowing hard.
    It is funny,
    I came here in search of stardom ,I ended up just getting lots of snow.
    It is sad ,but it is true.
    I just keep falling down on every task I have ventured out.

  7. Betty Says:

    Hi Warren, what a wonderful article you have given us, thank you so much.

    I was reading it and I showed my daughters your article, saying you used ‘s’ to describe Bob: “Bob wasn’t much to look at: he was short and small. But he was sharp – someone who understands things and thinks quickly”.

    My daughters asked me: ‘do you know what it is’? They asked me to guess the spelling after they read the word out, ‘dictation time’ they said.

    Finally, I was given the correct spelling of the word, it was ‘alliteration’.

    I am so happy my daughters are helping me with my English learning.

    ************************************************

    Hi Peter, I am so happy to hear that you are taking English students. You will make a very good English teacher. All the best wishes to you.

  8. Daniel Says:

    Hello to everyone,

    Let’s start saying that I like this place. Living in a not English speaking coutry, it gives me the chance to use what I am learning.
    I guess that guys like Peter uses it daily. Am I right?

    I am not going to say anything bad about Politicians, poor people, they find themselves in a position where you have to make everyone happy.Not an easy job..
    As in every part of society there are bad politicians and good ones, bad citizen and good ones..anyway, I am not defending politician, I do not even have any political party preference.

    I pay for Sky, and recently I had Fox news. I kept it just to see what kind of news they aired and, you know.. I must say that i do not like that kind of news, I have got the feeling that they keep on scarying people.
    I like BBC, and it’s free…
    Thanks, Warren, I ‘ll take some time for that even though I find politics to be boring material.

  9. Peter Says:

    Daniel,this is Peter you were referring to in your comment.
    It is a compelet wrong assumption that whoever lives in a speaking-English country take on the language fast and easy.
    People here attracts to their communities upon their arrival, in particular older people. Sometimes it happens that years go by without them even touch English language.
    U must get lucky to get to speak English every day. After a while ,you learn the basic stuff, but not something deep,very preliminary words and expressions . I have friends who have been living here for 20 years still can’t understand the news ,and are unable to run a proper conversation with sb of English descent. It doesn’t matter where you live. If you wanna learn the language you must burn the midnight oil.English language never comes to you. You must make the effort.
    I have learnt this language for my whole adult life.
    When I first put my step here in Toronto ,I didn’t have problem communicating with people . My problem was poor listening skill which is the first thing and
    perhaps the only thing you get good at, fast and easy. Since ,you have access to English radio ,and TV programs.
    Belive you me, nobody get injected an English language shot upon their arrivals. Back then ,I wasn’t lucky like you guys to have one-of-a-kind Linguistic
    center we name it ESLPOD. I picke up the language without any outside help what so ever. And, I am telling you guys, it was no party.
    That is the main reason why I have never taken Eslpod for granted and never will.
    Cheers

  10. Peter Says:

    Betty,
    Thanks for the support.
    Highly doubt it that I would make a good teacher.
    Betty , don’t take me for a gilty trip.
    I mean, I feel awful enough
    I am a horrible person.
    I could have directed them to Eslpod.
    I have a confession to make; I didn’t
    I feel bad
    I feel guilty
    Thanks for kind words , but, in a way you gave me a gilty trip
    Perhaps, I should tell them
    I always was very vocal about Eslpod,but this time around i clammed up

  11. Betty Says:

    I am very sorry I could not understand it when you said: “don’t take me for a glity trip, and, “in a way you gave me a gilty trip”.
    I could not find the word ‘gilty’ in the dictionary.
    I only found: gilt, n, “superficial or false appearance of excellence; glamour”.

    A lot of people want to find a good teacher to help them with acquiring English, a lot of people are very good in English but they simply will not think of teaching other people, because of other commitments etc etc.

    I think even if you direct them to ESLPOD, they may still need your guidance to start them off, not everyone can utilise ESLPOD if they do not have a basic foundation for English.

    I hope Lucy & Jeff do not mind me borrowing some contents from their website, “About Us”
    “Why are you doing this podcast?
    For many people around the world, learning English is very important. Unfortunately, there are very few useful, effective sources for learning English. Most people take English classes, which help them up to a certain point. ESL Podcast is designed to help you continue to improve your English”.

    After you started your students off, they can use ESL Podcast to help themselves continue to improve their English.

    I read the 9th post in this blog, your comment in response to Daniel’s comment.

    Every word is so real, so true, and so valuable. Thank you for summarising the situation for many non-native English Speakers who went to an English Speaking Countries as an adult.

  12. Betty Says:

    Error:

    Sorry, my previous post was for Peter.

  13. juan LARA Says:

    Hello Warren ,happy new year

  14. Daniel Says:

    I understand. I made things easier in my tought than they are in reality.
    Thanks Peter for sharing your expirience on the field.
    bye!

  15. elcomandant Says:

    I don’t believe in politicians.

    I read the post written by Daniel above. I take the opportunity to say him hello.

    I don’t agree when Daniel says literaly in his post “poor people, they find themselves in a position where you have to make everyone happy.”

    What I think is exactly the contrary, that is to say: “Rich people the politicians!, they are in a position which lets them make a lot of money, in spite of everyone can be poorer or unhappy.”

    To knowing that, you only have to read the newspapers. At least here in Spain. I am quite sure that is the same in any country of the world.

    The big paradox is that in spite of that, the politicians are absolutely necessary to a country can work. I wish it wasn’t, but it is. At the end, I only have my vote.

  16. elcomandant Says:

    Excuse me. I think I should have written in my previous post “To know that…” instead of “to knowing that…”.

  17. sara Says:

    TNX,as always it was great.
    Dear Peter tnx for your good comments too.

  18. Peter Says:

    Guilt not gilty
    Sorry for the typo
    My stupid IPhone

  19. Peter Says:

    No problem Sara
    I just call it as I see it.
    Try to be accurate.
    Thanks for the kind words

    Yours

    Peter

  20. emiliano Says:

    My body doesn´t like to speak much about politicians, here at least I don´t like nearly any of them.
    I said nearly, as to me there are some who may be honests and I could have just a bit of confidence.
    None of them are from the psoe which is the group in the goverment now.
    But it´s possible in future that could be one or two good, who knows?

    As millions of spaniards I voted once for this party (psoe) in the year 1981 and it was the last time for ever.
    Such a great deception it was indescribable, so big that I thought never again in the rest of my life I´ll be going to vote this party.
    Never, but it´s because the lists are closed.

    Forty or thirty years before I always thought that I was at the left….., my ideas were more from the left that from the
    right, now I don´t know where am I or what I think.

    At my age I only belive in the idividual person, and it´s a pity that the lists have to be closed lists for every party.
    That´s not fair, and I don´t like it.

    A person could be good from pp. from psoe. or another party but the whole list? why?.
    Very, very bad.

    I agree with my compatriot “politicians and democracy are necessary” and at the end I only have my vote.
    (welcome home elcomandat)

    Supporting mr. rodriguez and all his inepts ministers is too much for my health.
    Sorry, but I am very pesimist from a long long time.

    emiliano

  21. Aécio Flávio Perim Says:

    Hello crazy people
    I have missed not to leave some words for the guys. With some delay, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year for everybody. I hope you all have all your dreams come true.
    Aecio from beautiful green and yellow Brazil

  22. elcomandant Says:

    Thanks Emiliano for welcoming me back. We don’t know each other but It seems that we have some things in common. Like you, I also voted PSOE (socialist party) just once. I can’t remember what year it was, but if I’m not wrong had to be the same year you did it.

    What I remember is that I felt deeply swindled for the socialist party. We had a recent democracy because Franco had died just five or six years ago. For then, in Spain there was a strong campaign so that our country joined to NATO as a member. The socialists were clearly against this incorporation with the slogan “OTAN NO”. Thanks to that, they won the elections. Once in the power, the socialists said that Spain was going to be a new member of NATO.

    Then I wondered what was happening here. How could be possible this big lie?. If this wasn’t enough, since Spain came in to NATO, a big socialist, Javier Solana, was its president for many many years. This was too much to me. Since then I never voted and I never will vote socialist again.

    As we said before, we only have our vote. It must be enough.

  23. emiliano Says:

    I even signed a manifesto in the Gran Via of Madrid against the incorporation of Spain into The NATO.
    The manifiesto was a claim or proposal of the psoe party that so cynically lied at the moment to get the power.

    Yes you may laugh elcomandant because just at that moment I was an unwary pacifist who believed that people, the
    same as you did and so many friends that I have known after that time.
    Now we have mr. rodriguez example, he promised to take off the soldiers from Irak get the power and afterward sent them
    to Afganistan.
    Just the same story once and again, how silly people we can be.

    Yes, I think we have some things in common….incluso fuimos los mismos capullos que votaron a F.G…..and promised not to vote them any more.
    Well I think young people here don´t know anything about all these disgusting lies.
    All the best.
    emiliano

  24. Ramki Says:

    Nice Article !

  25. bill wang Says:

    dear emiliano and elcomandant,
    thanks for your posts about the politic in spain, you dislike the leader and party in power now, but you have the chance to change them.
    but in china , we dislike the group in power either, but we have no way to let them down, furthermore, they use our money to propagated themselves as the only one who can bring progress to china without any shame, i knew they even done it in europe, they control all the domestic medias in china and do not permit any contrary opinion appeared.
    we even have no votes to express our decision, we all be represented by the wicked party, if you still give out your voice with different tone, they will solve you with any means.
    so i’m always feel upset for the china mainland

  26. Daniel Says:

    Hello to everyone,

    Emi,
    I have noticed, also in your previous posts, that when you write about politicians you get pissed off..the flames of passions are still burning inside the old lion.
    That’s how I have you in my thougths, an old lion :-) just joking
    I can only imagine how you would get pissed off if Spanin ends up like Greece and Ireland. Problably we (italy) would be after you…
    I told you once, i like reading you, actually I read everyone, I like your wisdom and passion. Does you wife agree with me?

  27. emiliano Says:

    Yes, Daniel, you make me laugh but it seems to me that you have made a good description of the fire that is burning inside the old lion.
    I think you have a good eye to see inside people and yes I get piss off about so many things, too much deceptions or too many
    expectatives after living uder a dictatorship for long.
    We can´t deposit so many hopes once we get freedom or democracy is not gold all that glitters and it´s possible we were dazzled once
    the dictator franco was dead.

    Thank you so much Daniel, I hope to have that passion for a long time.

    Cuca is completely different from me (usual in couples) and she takes all by the easy way. She don´t get ever angry about nearly anything.
    She is like balm to me. Soft, nice and tender always and takes life like a joke, politicians even more than anything.
    Despite she may be worried as it´s natural she could listen to the news with humor always, my humor instead has gone already.

    Be sure Daniel, Spain would be the next may be after Portugal, I hope not Italy that would be a catastrophe for so many poor people
    who has nothing….no hopes, no work, no illusions. The youngers who have a good training are going out here by thousands
    one of them is my own daughter Laura that wants now to stay in Denmark, Norway or Canada, even earning less money than here.

    All the best Daniel and thanks. emiliano

    ——–

    bill wang I understand you perfectly well, till I was more than thirty I was living under a dictatorship and I may have an idea about
    this matter, but take it easy and with patience.
    Sure in future you could see changes in your country, the majority for good but another may be not so better.
    Freedom has a cost too, and it´s possible you may see it by yourself.

    Look at me, first at the left by all means and after I don´t know where but as Daniel said I get pissed off with so many lies and bad politicians.

    Sure bill wang you are very young and have a long future ahead.
    Regards.

    emiliano

  28. emiliano Says:

    Daniel, I have just asked her about your question and she said, Yes I do agree with Daniel.
    Cuca has been listening to my roars so many times that it has been confirmed, and old lion.
    ————————————

    I am very very sorry knowing the tragedy in Tucson, Arizona, so bad news that I don´t know
    what to say.
    My sorrow and condolonces with all the victims and their families, also to all Arizona´s people.
    This congresist Giffords seems to be a good person I wish she could recovered completely soon.
    Poor little child, what a pity.
    I can´t ever understand this kind of things which ever reason or land they may happen.
    Spain and spaniards have suffered too much violence and we could understand well
    the badly sense of all good people from Arizona and EE.UU.
    My deepest concern once again with all of you dear american´s friends.

  29. Bill wang Says:

    an old lion with fire burning inside, it’s an interesting and accurate description for elmiliano, i think so.

    i’m sorrowful for the tragedy in Arizona, i don’t know why it occured since US is such a sufficient state.

    i’m more sorrowful for the tragedies showed in china everyday, self-burning, killing children, miner death, threaten and murdering the people with different ideas, i can see them everyday in the website, so many, and i can not count them out, and i do not where’s the end. Franco would be died, but our dictators will not die, it’s the most powful dictatorship in human’s history since they grasped all the resourse and fortune in china, it used to lie but now all sounds like joke, the latest one should be president Hu’s show in the first day of the new year: RMB77/month ‘s rent for an appartment in Beijing. the truth should be the rent is 20time as it. i have to consider dictatorship can make the dictator foolish.

  30. Betty Says:

    It seems to me that most of the post contributors above are not so happy with their governments.

    I try to avoid politics because it only gives me more headaches.

    Once my teacher said that no one can avoid politics for as long as they live, now even those who passed away in Hong Kong have to criticise the government because of the shortage and high cost of niches.

    What a life!

  31. Karl, Austria Says:

    Not all politicians are villains though. But people have been betrayed too often, so they cannot trust them anymore.