Viewpoints from the Publisher's View
TruthJuly Issue, 2010, Potrero View
Last school year, a small fire broke out in a first grade classroom at a San Francisco private school. A heat lamp duct taped to a wire hanger broke-off and fell into a nest of chicks – class pets – sparking modest flames, triggering the sprinkler system, killing all the birds. The school’s official story, however, was that most of the chicks survived; a more soothing outcome to elementary school students than a fried chicken holocaust. To protect the teacher’s reputation, blame was publicly placed on faulty wiring, rather than the Gerry-rigged system. School children and parent chatter focused on the chicks that were saved – that is, quickly replaced – rather than death and incompetence.
“…the truth will set you free,” states the New Testament, in John 8:32. But even this oft-quoted assertion is open to interpretation: whose truth? We’re surrounded by half-truths, perceptions, and outright falsehoods, concocted as a means to sooth, manipulate, communicate, and obfuscate. Advertisers boldly announce that our sex lives will improve if we buy their products. Politicians promise us the moon. Even after the bloom of early romance has faded, our spouses are responsible for whispering sweet lies.
Whether the truth is, and should be, told depends on the context. Every civilized man knows that the correct response is a firm “no” when a woman questions aloud whether she looks fat. Donning an expensive new pair of eyeglasses, my wife asked a friend – a skilled salesperson – how she looked. He peered at the spectacles, looked her up and down, exclaimed, “that’s a lovely dress,” and excused himself to freshen his drink.
Politicians are known liars, but the expectation of that behavior is so universal as to almost excuse the behavior most of the time. “Yes we can,” President Barack Obama’s ubiquitous campaign slogan, was both brilliant messaging and an artful dodge. It conveyed an all in this together action towards achieving something…that we want to achieve! Contrast it with Ronald Reagan’s “It’s morning in America,” with its subtle claim that providence itself is shining upon us simply because we are Americans, like a mother beaming at a newborn baby. Obama’s let’s get to work communitarianism versus Reagan’s let’s kick back and enjoy the sunshine libertarian clarion call. Neither is a lie; neither reflects a clear understanding of reality.
The media, particularly newspapers, are supposed to hold to a higher standard of truth. But even that’s suspect. In its upwards of 28 pages the amount of truth the View can tell is limited, even setting aside equally limited resources to fully investigate a given story. Some truths are hard to tell. In the past this paper has killed “he said, she said” type stories that focused on mutual accusations of bad behavior by community advocates, and decided against reporting on a host of issues, including which seemingly healthy local merchant regularly parks in a handicapped zone, what well-known neighborhood nonprofit has defaulted on City loans, and which lobbyists seem to have which community leaders’ attention. These are hard stories to tell, and, even if accurate, border on needlessly destructive gossip for a neighborhood newspaper.
Still, we depend on honest information sources to make decisions about our lives, whether it’s a friend telling us we have spinach in our teeth, or a politician explaining how to address chronic budget deficits. It can be hard to look ugly straight in the face, whether it takes the form of our steadily warming planet, or too often low student achievement. The truth can make us angry, or sad. And in the end, it may not set us free, but bind us to take action to honestly address the truths that we don’t like. Perhaps that’s where liberation occurs: knowing the truth. And then changing it.
"If elected I'll focus on job creation that's small business-based and green; support the development of affordable housing and thriving neighborhoods; champion educational opportunities for our children; and work for a better environment, including creating more open space, and cleaning-up the toxic legacy of years gone by."
Moss For District 10
291 Connecticut Street
San Francisco, CA 94107