A Bit About Facts and Truth

There’s lots of anguish these days over journalists sidestepping facts in favor of their own views in reporting news.  As I write in my book, without facts truth becomes ever more elusive. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about him, Robert Caro, LBJ’s biographer, had this to say:

“We live in an age where facts are somehow being denigrated, like there aren’t any facts,” he said. “What’s true is there isn’t one truth. But there are a hell of a lot facts, and the more time I spent in the Johnson library, the more facts I got. The more facts you get, the closer you come to whatever truth there is.”

Caro’s comments are worth pondering in our current fractured cultural and political landscape.  Unfortunately, many journalists no longer make any claims of objectivity. Theirs is a subjective viewpoint, usually with a social or political purpose. When I was an active journalist, I always thought that “good getting” of facts was paramount in covering a story.  Cable channels with their “breaking news” droning along through the hours certainly contributes to our dilemma, especially those darn talking heads who forever stray from facts.

Sometimes, even the way facts are presented may be frustrating.  When I covered LBJ, he absorbed news and current events like a blotter. He had Associated Press and United Press teletypes in the Oval Office and he watched them closely. I recall one day when he held an impromptu press conference at his desk. Back then the pressroom, off of the public entrance to the West Wing Lobby, was small, and there wasn’t space for everybody. The United Press’s telephone was in a phone booth just inside the lobby entrance door. I watched with fascination as LBJ strode through the lobby to the booth within minutes after the press conference was over. He rapped his knuckles loudly on the folding glass door to get the attention of Al Spivak as he dictated to his office.

“You’ve got the wrong lead, Al.” the president shouted. “Your lead is all wrong.”

Obviously, he’d seen the first few paragraphs of Spivak’s copy move on the United Press wire. He wasn’t disputing the facts in the story, they were his own facts, but the president disagreed with how they were being presented. Now, that’s perplexing! How did Spivak handle it? He turned his head away and continued his dictation. When he finished, Spivak unfolded the booth door and spoke:  

“Yes, Mr. President?”

“Never Mind,” Johnson replied.

And that’s a fact. 

I never intended to write a memoir…

An old friend, Gertrude Terry, is responsible. She asked me to join a writing group in her home once a week. She had this caveat: I had to work on a memoir or I couldn’t come. Her stipulation seemed a fair exchange to enjoy her company along with the company of other writers.

I wish that I had kept a daily journal. A journal would be a ready point of reference. At 90+ years of age, I have a few notes jotted down from time to time and a couple of scrapbooks that my father pasted up with clippings of stories I covered as a journalist. But, I never kept a journal and that I regret. The downside of that negligence is that I’m stuck with mainly memory that whispers my own history back to me. The fear in such a circumstance is that I will remember nothing of importance and everything is, as Margaret Mitchell wrote, gone with the wind.

Everybody has constants as they move through life season after season, year after year, boundaries that anchor and shape thoughts and actions. A philosophy is developed by which to live, a tenacity to absorb blows, grace under pressure, forgiving in victory. When you reach 90+ years of age, as I have, you become a linchpin with the past. I remember people and events I saw as a journalist–those titans of politics and giants of business who are unknown to younger people. These recollections mean something to me, the part I played, but perhaps not to the young. They are busy accumulating memories of their own, hopefully to pass on someday.

Gertrude Terry and Russ Freeburg ~ Arcadia Bluffs, MI – August 2015