Peace begins with the truth

Randy Riley Guest columnist

Randy Riley Guest columnist

As I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s, I became accustomed to watching the evening news with my parents. Those short news segments became part of routine life in the Riley household.

At that time, the evening news only lasted 10 minutes. Later, the news was expanded to 15 minutes. In 1963, the programs were expanded to half an hour.

Even today, with the exception of a few news shows like “60 Minutes” and various morning news shows, the news we receive on television is contained within a short 30-minute package.

As a youngster, I always believed what I heard on the news. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I realized that some of the news coverage about the war in Vietnam was being manipulated to improve the public perception of the war. Until then, I would never have thought about doubting the facts presented by the network news programs.

Of course, it was the reporters in the field who first questioned the number of enemy losses and the numbers of American losses in the fighting. Those misrepresentation soon became a major story. It wasn’t long before viewers started questioning everything the government was telling us about the battles being fought half a world away.

I remember being disappointed and angry at the media. We still fully supported the warriors, but our confidence in the politicians and generals slacked. No longer could I believe everything that I heard on the nightly news. That was sad.

I remember Edward R. Murrow. His program in the 1950s was the first to use unrehearsed interviews. They didn’t use newsreel film, but recorded everything themselves.

This was in the days of the McCarthy Era. Without any evidence, Senator Joseph McCarthy was attacking anyone he felt might be sympathetic to Communist Russia. He wantonly destroyed the lives of innocent Americans.

Those he attacked during the McCarthy Hearings were placed on the “blacklist.” For most of them, their professional lives were ruined; ruined by unsubstantiated lies.

For 14 years, NBC brought us Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. For all those years, the Huntley/Brinkley Report was the top-rated news program in the nation. If either Chet or David said it, you could repeat it in confidence. If they said it, you could count on it.

Later, the news we could trust came from Walter Cronkite. He ended each of his news broadcasts with the words, “And that’s the way it is…” For years, he was regarded as the “Most Trusted Man in America.” You could never tell whether he was a Republican or a Democrat. That’s the way he wanted it to be.

Recently, reporters appeared to be hired based on their political leanings.

Only in more recent years have we had to deal with the nonsense associated with phrases like “fake news,” and “alternative facts.” Arguments abound when trying to define what is truly “fake” or “alternative.” I have become thoroughly disgusted with both of those phrases. “Fake news” is just fake. “Alternative news” is just a pack of lies.

Then, last week it was announced that the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize was being awarded jointly to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov… “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”

At first, I was surprised and somewhat confused that journalists were receiving this prestigious peace award. Then I read the specific wording from the Nobel Committee, which stated, “Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines” and the committee also stated, “Dmitry Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions.”

It dawned on me: Without honesty and truthful reporting, peace cannot be assured. Can we trust our governments to provide us with the truth? No. Not always. Can we rely on the large network news outlets to report the truth? Not always.

It is sad that many people I know would rather believe the nonsense they hear or read on the internet. The internet is the least reliable source of news I have ever seen. I have become a total skeptic of what is reported on the internet.

Sadly, I now doubt almost anything I hear. If Maria and Dmitry can bring some truth back to the media, they deserve the Nobel Prize.

Randy Riley is a former mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County commissioner.

Randy Riley Guest columnist Riley Guest columnist