Years ago when I was on a college debate team, there were two news sources we could quote: The New York Times and this newspaper. I have been saddened, and yet encouraged, by the recent changes in staff at the Times and the dishonest reporting that prompted the high-level resignations. I am encouraged by the paper's desire to enhance and secure its reliability.
Twenty years ago was the first time I became intimately aware of the pressures on a reporter to make some dry information more readable. A friend who was a reporter had written his story as if he were interviewing a person relaying the information. This had not been the case. He was called to the highest level of authority of that newspaper and reprimanded. At that time I saw clearly that "just the facts" is not enough for honest reporting. The way those facts are presented relate integrally to the honesty of the story.
Today, in this age of spin, it's not always easy for readers, as well as news sources, to get an honest assessment of current events. Yet an honest press is as essential as a free press for maintaining a just society.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper and established its standards, noted: "Honesty is spiritual power. Dishonesty is human weakness, which forfeits divine help." This statement appears on page 453 of her book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," which has provided moral guidance for over 125 years.
Of course, it is not only the media that are wrestling with questions of honesty. Actually, today's news media have the superhuman task of sorting out the truth in the reams of information given them. A dedication to honest reporting can often provide the intuition that uncovers the truth.
As the relaying of news becomes more and more like entertainment, the lines between fact and fiction are blurred. The pressure for profits, more dominant than in the past, has invaded many newsrooms. There is no doubt that our truth purveyors face challenges unknown in earlier times.
What makes us seek and value honesty? Why not settle for something less? The pursuit of honesty is related to the time-honored pursuit of truth itself. Many cultures honor and even deify truth. It is this absolute and spiritual sense of truth that appears in the biblical promise: "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Such a metaphysical sense of truth, based on spiritual understanding, frees humanity from all kinds of enslavement.
History has illustrated over and over that controlling the press is a tool of tyrants. Whether this tyranny is politically inspired by a dictatorial regime or the result of economic pressures, the effect is devastating. Shading the news toward sensationalism or failing to dig for the truth or relying excessively on anonymous sources wears away the honesty of a news source and undercuts its own freedom as well as its value to readers. Objective and honest reporting is essential to maintaining good governance.
A verse in the book of Proverbs in the Bible states, "The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment" (12:19). We can take comfort in the fact that the volumes and volumes of true reporting published by The New York Times and other reputable newspapers are forever. They are something to be grateful for. Facing up to infractions and making corrections will have an enduring and positive ripple effect on all journalism.
I remember vividly the first time I was in a country where the government controlled the press - Zimbabwe. I would tune in shortwave radio and find the day's news stories on the BBC and American Armed Forces Radio and realize the local news was almost entirely incorrect. It was then that I learned that it takes a free press to present honest news. This intertwining of freedom and honesty is essential for the progress of civilization.
Journalists who face dangers in reporting the truth from oppressed countries render a great service to humanity, as do all honest news gatherers. Because they serve truth and honesty in their reporting, they do indeed receive divine help. And so do their editors.