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Truth Is in the Slash

by Paul Murphy 7 days ago in opinion

Lester Holt said what?

Taken by Kathy Toth Lowe

Standing on a porch one morning many years ago watching another magnificent Oklahoma sunrise, I thought, “The Sun really does appear to rise in the sky.”

What made me remember this was an article by Brian Flood titled NBC’s Lester Holt says we don’t need to hear both sides to define truth: Fairness is overrated. During a recent acceptance speech at the 45th Murrow Symposium for the Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award, Holt, a news anchor for NBC Nightly News and Dateline NBC, said that fairness in giving “the other side” equal say is overrated:

“The idea that we should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in.”

Then he gave this example:

"That the sun sets in the west is a fact. Any contrary view does not deserve our time or attention,"

Where facts are settled there doesn’t need to be presented an alternative viewpoint, he argued.

I wonder if Edward R. Murrow, whom President Johnson called “a gallant fighter” dedicated “to the unrelenting search for truth,” would have agreed.

First, isn’t saying “the other side” tacitly assuming that there are only two sides? This is binary thinking. It inundates our society. Our weltanschauung is controlled by the either/or choice: yes/no, black/white, us/them, good/bad, rich/poor, guilty/innocent, left/right. (As an aside, it is interesting that we are engaged in liberating the masses from the two-gender concept. Makes me wonder what other liberating we need to do.)

Binary thinking is all the rage because it is just easier and maybe even intuitive. When I was a kid faced with having to choose between a group of things – toys, snacks, whatever – I would take two and decide which I preferred. Then I’d discard the one I didn’t choose and take up the next thing and compare it to the thing I had just chosen. This would go on until I had decided on one thing. I must admit, this worked well. But remember, I was a kid, and I have no idea what criteria I used in choosing. It was probably just a momentary gut feeling.

To give Holt the benefit of the doubt, he may have been talking about simple choices, like gut feelings. In fact, he gave the example of the sun setting in the west. But saying that the Sun sets in the west is just a term of art. We all know the Earth rotates on its axis and revolves around the Sun. Also, I really don’t think Holt was talking about a sunset.

Claiming that it is dangerous to provide people a platform to share, what Holt calls, misinformation about "issues of public health and safety” more than insinuates COVID/vaccines/shutdowns/etc. But comparing COVID to a sunset, even if tongue-in-cheek, seems specious to me. Where one legitimately does not want to waste time discussing if the Sun really does rise, discussion over what has been a moving target of policy and procedure hardly seems to fall into the category of “any contrary view deserves to be tossed aside.”

As 21st Century citizens, we subliminally appreciate the uncommon sense Aristarchus of Samos possessed in 310 BC to mathematically illustrate what Foucault’s Pendulum later demonstrated and a camera in outer space proved. The Earth rotates on its axis. That is a fact, and it is a fact that, although derived using uncommon sense, finds itself now elevated (or lowered) to the status of common sense.

What? Something that once was an uncommon sense concept can morph into a common sense concept? Is there any danger in that? Would it even be a problem worth considering? Only if new thought – uncommon thought – can continue is it not a problem. If, however, complacency subverts free expression, if uncommon sense ideas of people like Aristarchus, Copernicus, and Foucault are reigned in because common sense indicates they deserve to be tossed aside because they are contrary, then we have a problem. Then we will have a new weltanschauung, one that doesn’t require either/or because you either accept or else.

Truth is in the slash.

I think it’s unfortunate that Lester Holt said what he said. I think it’s unfortunate that we all seem to really believe that there is one side and the other side. Are we becoming so smug that any – that no – contrary view will deserve our time or attention? If so, we just maybe sentencing ourselves to a stagnant future, because it seems like progress in thought and deed comes from contrariness more than by what we currently assume are settled facts.

The Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award Lester Holt received honors Edward R. Murrow, a true broadcasting icon. He did what we used to think journalists were supposed to do. He broadcasted live from London rooftops during Nazi bombing blitzes. He was at Buchenwald when the Third Army liberated the concentration camp. He criticized Senator Joseph McCarthy on his See It Now television program and was instrumental in the ensuing backlash against the senator.

The Symposium named for Edward R. Murrow seeks to acknowledge exceptional achievement in communication. Can there really be exceptional communication – can there be any communication – if we lose the slash?

Paul Murphy
Paul Murphy
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