Believing Everything We Read

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence but he was no newspaper admirer. He asserted, “Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”

Fulfilling its historic role as zealously as ever, the news is ensconced everywhere, in each of its modern forms. Like it or not, information constantly flows toward us from all directions.

Photo Credit: C-SPAN
Photo Credit: C-SPAN

The press is a tool with a destiny decided by its wielders. In a memoir, Life Is Not a Rehearsal, radio show host David Brudnoy discussed his uncle, dentist Arnold Axilrod. Reporters pursued his family seeking a “human interest” approach when Dr. Axilrod stood trial for manslaughter. Brudnoy wrote “…as that term is defined in practice, it often means being inhumane to the families of people on trial.”

Accepting an award for his own law-related journalistic achievements in 1995, Brudnoy inwardly recalled that trial’s seminal impact. He noted, “But then I lacked the perspective to see both the legal system and the media as of mixed virtue and vice, and I took what my family had been through as representative of those two professions.”

That theme recurs this week, as one New Yorker article discusses the movie, Black Mass. It makes factual statements already refuted by congressional hearings over a decade ago.

The author writes, “Billy Bulger had remained close to Connolly and helped him arrange a cushy new appointment as director of security at Boston Edison.”

Photo Credit: Jason Bowns
Photo Credit: Jason Bowns

William Bulger submitted an affidavit dated June 12, 2003, from Carl Gustin, Senior Vice President at Boston Edison. Gustin wrote, “I am aware of rumors, repeated in the press that former Senate President William M. Bulger got Mr. Connolly his jobs at Boston Edison. The rumors are false.” That affidavit describes the hiring process. The company’s retiring security director, whom Connolly ultimately succeeded, was himself a former FBI agent.

The author also declares,

“After two decades in the state Senate, Bulger became president of the University of Massachusetts, but was forced to step down seven years later when it was revealed that he had lied to the FBI. Billy told investigators that he had not been in contact with his fugitive brother; in truth, they had spoken on the phone.”

That claim, too, is contradicted by the facts. I have previously written about Bulger’s departure from UMass. What about the new accusation that he “lied to the FBI”?

Look at the congressional record, which relays how FBI Special Agent John Gamel contacted Bulger on Jan. 9, 1995. The next day, a federal indictment was unsealed against his brother, James Bulger; he officially became a fugitive Jan. 10. There was no further FBI contact with William Bulger. The phone call occurred after that, later in January. Morality debates aside, Bulger did not lie to the FBI and that is not why he resigned.

These two examples give cause to wonder about other “facts” we find in the news. How can we ever know truth?

In fulfilling a historic and noble messenger role, diligence is paramount. That mandate must be shouted from mountaintops and through every street. In this Information Age, we owe that much to ourselves and to each other, lest we welcome an age of misinformation.

Photo Credit: Robin Stevens
Photo Credit: Robin Stevens

Remember that David Brudnoy was not the only one who circuitously realized innate potential for the press to do good. Mark Twain found it, too: “There are only two forces that can carry light to all corners of the globe—only two—the sun in the heavens and The Associated Press down here.”

Submitted by Jason Bowns


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