The Truth

I’m a journalist and twice I have spoken to academic classes about journalistic ethics. One was an ethics class, taught by the religion instructor at St. Augustine High School, and the other was journalism class at San Diego State.

In both places I offered a theory about truth… that thing reporters are supposed to be devoted to. I said truth is like God. St. Thomas Aquinas once told us, ‘We will never know what God is. We can only know that God is.’ We can know those constituents of the truth, which are facts. But we can never fully know the truth.

Truth and facts can be mean, ornery things because they ultimately defy all hopes and expectations. We want to believe what we believe, and we seek out the facts that support our philosophies. But that doesn’t add up to the truth.

And we must be devoted to truth. I have noticed this more than ever in the political age of Donald Trump, whose untruthfulness surpasses all other American politicians who have ever bent or manipulated the facts. There can be no democracy without a devotion to the truth. Dictatorships are built on the lies that suit the oppressors. Trump would feel very at home in that kind of government.

Mind you, the truth isn’t everything.

To say ‘All men are created equal’ might not, strictly speaking, be true. But it is a belief that’s vital to our democratic way of life, and conducting ourselves with that understanding is vital to keeping a just society. But even when we preserve a philosophy that unites us we can never lose track of the truth.

Human values may shift and evolve but they must be built on truth. Here’s what Cormac McCarthy said about the enduring nature of the subject in his book, No Country for Old Men.

I think that when the lies are all told and forgot the truth will be there yet. It dont move about from place to place and it don’t change from time to time. You cant corrupt it any more than you can salt salt. You cant corrupt it because that’s what it is.

But we will never entirely know what it is.

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