TRUTH, LIES, AND NEWS REPORTING – Garry Armstrong

“The media always lies,” she said and I cringed. Then, I got angry. Why do people believe a president who has never told the truth about anything while failing to believe fact-based truth.

I’m not talking about “ultimate” truth or the meaning of life or faith. I’m talking about things that can be proved with evidence, science. Stuff caught on tape. Printed, heard, overheard, and to which testimony has been given.

Photo credit: CBS News – Vermin Supreme in New Hampshire

I really hate it when I hear that cliché – “The media doesn’t tell the truth. They always lie.” It demeans all the passion and belief I put into more than 40-years as a working reporter. Moreover, it demeans the careers of so many others who give their lives in pursuit of the truth. Many, literally died in pursuit of the truth.

I am not romanticizing my career. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve gotten it wrong. It happens when you’re covering multiple stories a day, 5 to 7 days a week. With deadlines breathing down your neck.

I always tried to clarify mistakes by accepting my culpability up front and being clear with viewers. There were many days when I hated what I had to do. Usually, it was in pursuit of a truth which would be ugly, demanding, tedious — and require a good deal of soul-searching. The truth isn’t simple, or black and white. Despite what you usually see on television or in movies about reporters, there aren’t many clear “wins.”

Often, we’re lambasted for telling the truth by the same folks who call us liars. Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth” line should be crayoned on the skulls of those who insist the media always lies. Those critics are the same pilgrims who gobble up the pablum offered by the current White House Tenant who doesn’t know what the truth is. It’s like a foreign language to him.

I fervently wish that Those People who belittle the media and law enforcement officials  spend some time, real time — like 24/7 on the streets. The real streets, not just their cozy neighborhood. They might see life closeup without any of the public relations filters. I suspect those critics would change that tune and maybe sing a different song. They might think before they speak and see our world in three-dimensions instead of whatever propaganda they accept in their biased, insulated worlds.

Finally, I’m proud of what I did for a living. For 40 plus years, I fought to tell the truth.

It was a privilege!

Author: Garry Armstrong

As a reporter for Channel 7 in Boston for 31 years, I was witness to most of the major events affecting the region. I met a lot of people ... politicians, actors, moguls, criminals and many regular folks caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes, I write about the people I've met and places I've been. Sometimes, I write about life, my family, my dogs and me. Or what might otherwise be called Life.

37 thoughts on “TRUTH, LIES, AND NEWS REPORTING – Garry Armstrong”

    1. Thanks, Life. Some of this is a tribute to a dear friend and excellent reporter who just passed away. He represented all that was good about journalism that the White House idiot and his minions demean.

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      1. They are masters at deflecting blame. Unbelievable that they get away with it–mainly with people who just don’t want to admit they were taken for a ride.. or are too stupid to ever realize it.

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  1. Unfortunately in today’s world the truth seems to depend upon which news report one listens to! As ridiculous as it sounded, Kellyann Conway’s “alternative facts” wasn’t such an odd concept after all.

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    1. Slmret, I understand what you’re saying. However, those of us from old school journalism render Ms. Conway’s “alternative facts” as meaningless and ridiculous. I must admit that the playing field may have changed a bit with the social network and retirement of ol’ farts like me.

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      1. In relating to the “alternative facts” I was thinking of the real fact that one can view the same story on Fox News and any one of the other networks and see two completely opposite stories. The real truth has become somewhat elusive if one only sees two versions of the story! Yes, the retirement of so many of the good reporters has made a huge difference, as have social media and the worst political division in our lifetime!

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      2. You wrote, “Those critics are the same pilgrims who gobble up the pablum offered by the current White House Tenant who doesn’t know what the truth is.”

        Truth is (no Pun), he doesn’t need the truth.., it’s useless to him and gets in the way of what he is attempting to accomplish which, IMO, is to create as much chaos as possible. Unfortunately, you guys, the honest journalist, get caught in the wave and those that would agree with HIM, believe what they want to, and it has little to do with “Truth.”It’s some kinda sick game, a “dangerous” sick game.

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  2. Perhaps the problem is that it is too easy for anyone with access to the internet to call themselves journalists now which reflects badly on those who do work hard to present the facts that are available in a fair and impartial manner. I barely watch news programs on television now because a great deal of it is not news but opinions. If I watch the news I prefer either to watch the channel with the local news about Tasmania or for the national and international stories the ABC. I don’t watch the current affairs or political based news shows anymore. I get too angry. I also try to stay away from the Murdoch papers which show a clear bias to one political party, whichever one Murdoch likes at the time. Not the fault of the journalists as much as the editorial policy dictated by the owner. eg. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/mediareport/daily-telegrap—kick-this-mob-out/4868198

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    1. Tas, I like the way you seek different myriad media outlets before forming judgement. I did the same thing — EVERY day — as I pursued stories. You sense how the wind is blowing. You also try to avoid a rush to judgement if you haven’t done your homework. Makes the day longer but it’s a small price to pay for accuracy and truth.

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  3. I applaud your journalistic record, Garry. I wish there were more journalists like you in the UK mass media NOW. Most of the good ones have been forced to go it alone. Something very insidious has happened to our newspapers, even ones we always used to trust. Even the BBC pushes out a very one-sided narrative on world-important issues. It is deeply worrying, not to say alarming.

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    1. Trent, thank you. The pen really is mightier than the sword. They were days when even I was amazed at the power we had over those liars and scoundrels.

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  4. Generalizations such as “ALL reporters lie” is always a bad thing. In the defense of those saying that stuff however is the perception that many of us who do think for ourselves have gained. In the years since the internet took hold of ‘journalism’, it’s difficult to believe anything that’s written or spoken or even caught on film. I know first hand how to manipulate film, there’s a program for that. Because everyone has some agenda. Does that make ALL reporters liars? Not even. There are those with ethics and integrity (and it certainly sounds like you are among those Garry), who fought to report the NEWS, not some sound bite or spin doctor’s PERCEPTION of what the rabble in the cheap seats can tolerate. Can society as a whole tolerate the bald faced truth? I’m of the opinion that no we cannot. We’re too used to pap now, to having things tidied up for us, so we can feel safe (a fallacy), and so that we feel good about ourselves. But do SOME reporters lie? Yes they do. Are some stories passed off as ‘news’ not worth much? Sure. Me? I gave up trying to sort out the dross from the wheat a long time ago. But I have learned not to generalize. It’s unfair to the good ones in whatever group is being lumped.

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    1. Emb, excellent conclusions and points. As a film lover and maven, I appreciate how stories could be shaped and rewoven. I even had images of films in my mind as I chased some stories. I “stole” from John Ford and George Stevens in some of the visual images for stories. I let the video talk instead of me. The pictures were more truthful and honest than I could ever be. Mentored by “Murrow’s Boys” early in my career, I learned the value of clean, lean and spare writing. No adjectives unless necessary. I love the cadence and rhythmn of a soundly written story. It has depth and soul.

      Emb, much of this is a remembrance of the days before the Social Network, when news was run by news execs and not entertainment divisions. As a young newsie, I worked with the likes of Paul Harvey, Streeter Stewart, Don Gardner , Merrill “Red” Mueller and others who were there for the dawn of radio news. I learned that the story always came first. Just the facts. No need for reporter embellishment. That would come much later.

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    1. Leslie, thank you. May be corny but I LOVED my job until things turned sour near the end. Even at my lowest point, I could look back at the good years and feel that I had been productive. It’s a great feeling. I hope that my “bar” is like the bars I had to hurdle as a young newsie. Every day should be a challenge. You learn something NEW every day. You have NEVER seen it all. Lest I forget, you really need to LISTEN to what people are saying.

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    1. Thanks, Covert. WE thought we were just doing our job…as it SHOULD be done. Nothing more. History enhances our efforts.

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      1. History may enhance your efforts, but the honourable trustworthy reporting was there to begin with. You cared, you were involved, you did your very best because you believed in what you were doing. That’s a strong foundation to build on and goes to character too if you ask me.

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  5. What bothers me — and it verges on lies — are headlines that leave out salient features of the story such as what’s being reported is only a possibility, not a fait accompli. That pisses me off and I think it’s irresponsible journalism — clickbait, basically. Of course, headlines have always been sensationalized. Following these headlines is most often a factual story that I wish I hadn’t wasted my time reading because LOTS of things are possible and I want to know what is really HAPPENING. I don’t know if that makes sense. That’s not about journalists; that’s about selling “papers” which is not/was not ever your job.

    My short foray into free-lance journalism working on John Anderson’s campaign showed me that getting a story takes a lot of time; you meet a lot of people you don’t want to know; writing the truth often pisses off these people you don’t want to know AND often your work comes to naught. It was enough to show me I didn’t want the job. AND as a small, cute woman trying to do this in the late 70s/early 80s, well, there was a whole “me too” movement just there. I respect anyone who goes into the field and stays there, doing a conscientious job of informing people who often do not even deserve the news.

    As for me, a somewhat historian, I rely on primary sources whenever I can find them. On there — in the hard work done by journalists, record keepers, diarists — is there any chance at all of finding out what REALLY happened and how people of the time regarded the events.

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        1. A little tired of “The Situation Room” and “Breaking News” are you? We laugh about it. Wolf is so freaking SINCERE. He used to write for The Jerusalem Post. He was less sincere back then and he was a very good writer.

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      1. Thanks, Martha and Marilyn. Many basic issues of TV news mentioned.

        TV news uses the “bait and switch” with its headlines. They want to keep the audience from drifting. Often, I would “tease” a story from the scene and then be put on hold for 5 or 10 minutes. The “tease” was just that. A reporter, at an exciting scene, promising lots of drama. We often we’re told to say “Don’t go away” or “Stay with us”. I declined such carnival barker tricks unless I was doing a silly story and send a subliminal message to the suits. There usually was payback for me.

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        1. I don’t want TV news because it just seems like another show to me. I read news online. I think there has evolved kind of a hybrid platform — text news with a TV commentator or vice versa. BUT as for his Orangeness, my favorite source is his Twitter feed! It’s got it all. Comedy, tragedy, tragicomedy, comments by good reporters, comments by bots, comments by me — usually not sent — often presenting a logical point followed by, “you fuck.” 😛

          I also read my local paper. It’s got charm and will print whatever I send them 🙂 This week’s headline, “Mock Accident Shows Students Scary Reality.” It’s a story about a staged drunk driving accident that the cops and fire department put on every year ahead of prom. It’s a full on dramatization with cop cars and both fire engines. One of my rewards of living in this remote small town is news like that, oh and that the seniors organization of these three counties is hosting a benefit pancake breakfast. ❤

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    1. Investigative journalism is difficult for TV reporters. There’s no anonymity. It’s hard to truly do “undercover” work despite the “thinking” of suits. It also means reporters be given time away from daily stories to do research, chase down old leads and sources. TV is very much a “right now”, instant gratification, immediate dispenser of information. It’s really hard for reporters to put together solid reports while being hounded to deliver “breaking news”. It used to drive me bonkers. Remember, my time was BEFORE Social Media’s relentless outpouring of stories that are not vetted.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True. I was definitely thinking of newspapers. Your experience was of course way different. I love spontaneous TV too. I think there is a place for deep reporting and in the spot reporting. I’m a news junkie:)

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