Facts can be troublesome things when it comes to both news articles and OpEds. They don’t change depending on how you or I feel. But the way the facts are presented, or in some cases omitted, can shape the feelings of our world – our colleges and universities in particular. Neither the journalists that write the articles or the public that reads them can completely divorce their emotions from the subject of a story. But shouldn’t we expect to have the facts presented honestly, regardless how people might feel about an issue?
Over the past week I began asking students, faculty, and staff at a public university in Illinois questions about what contemporary issues they felt were most relevant to the college community today. As you can imagine, I received a wide variety of replies. The topics I heard included: the use of Common Core requirements in education, the rising costs of attending college, the Zimmerman-Martin debate, the Concealed Carry License coming to Illinois, laws to protect the religious rights of businesses owners, and many more. All of those topics have both facts and feelings connected to them that cannot be ignored.
But the primary question I began to ask myself was “do I have a greater responsibility to tell the facts about an issue or should I put greater consideration behind whatever feelings different groups might have about it?” It’s not the potential for hostility from readers that prompted that introspection, but the desire to promote a healthy dialogue without causing more harm than good. As much as I love a good debate, I feel a greater duty to the truth. Picking at old wounds usually doesn’t lead to a healthy exchange of ideas, just opposing sides yelling at each other for not feeling the same way they do about the issue.
So, what if one side in an ongoing cultural battle won’t leave past conflicts to heal, but continually tears them open to agitate the populace into sharing their views? Then, when their ideological opponents respond to those actions or comments, they accuse them of engaging in the same kind of divisive behavior they themselves used? That type of thing goes on all the time, often with the willing participation of a broadcast and print media machine eager to mine the verbal carnage for readers and ratings.
Answer these questions, if you will. Do you, the readers, want “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” or do you think journalists and editorialists should constrain their writing to refrain from upsetting society? Conflict will happen over issues regardless and sometimes we need to rock the boat so that change can occur. But facts are annoying things – they don’t change to suit anyone’s feelings.
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