I was chatting with a friend, a journalist, about a feature story he had just written. I told him it was great, but needed some more supporting data.

He replied, “I can see why you want more data, but I didn’t want to weigh (the story) down.”

I understand where he’s coming from. The staid recitation of factual data is the bailiwick of boring board meetings and bland briefings, not the literary world of print journalism. Facts, though, shouldn’t ever be viewed as weighing anything down.

Facts are crucial for keeping too-light things from blowing away.

Or blowing up, like what recently happened to a paper in Seattle. A freelance writer pitched the weekly a juicy story: An inside look at how a true-crime writer sensationalized a lurid murder case, in which a wife killed her husband. The weekly ran the article as its cover story.

The editors failed to know one key fact, however: The author was now engaged to the murderess. This revelation discredited the story, author and publication, even though the writer had intentionally not divulged that key piece of data for his own bizarre reasons.


That’s the power of one fact.

In our current media culture — of which I am part — facts are precious commodities. There is such ability to broadcast information quickly to millions that speed can overtake reason. I’ve been guilty of it myself; there isn’t a reporter alive who doesn’t enjoy getting something first.

It’s just today, being first means a matter of seconds instead of hours.

This speed allows hearsay to masquerade as fact. It also means in the absence of fact, opinions and rumor receive equal weight. When the singer Amy Winehouse died, for example, I didn’t trust the initial reports because I was sure it was a hoax or joke — anything but fact.

I felt the same about the NFL lockout. I’m a rabid sports fan, especially football. On Twitter, I follow many NFL sources and journalists and, frankly, there were plenty of false starts on labor negotiation news until the real deal was formally announced.

In opinion writing and editing, which I’ve done for several years, I’ve had many inspired discussions — OK, arguments — with readers and writers about facts. On occasion, I’ve had to tell people their presumptive facts — often cribbed from an unchecked source — were not credible for publication.


“But that’s the truth!” they’d say. “President Obama was born in a Kenyan madrassa!”

“Truth is the trade of philosophers,” I’d reply. “I deal in facts.”

Yes, this is a sarcastic response. But I felt I had to get my message across. This business of journalism depends on fact, not truth. Truth is open to interpretation; facts are indisputable. Facts prove trends, disprove theories, build foundations and tear down walls.

Yet despite this influence, they are losing currency. Facts can no longer drive the substantive debates of our land; they are blurred in favor of rhetoric.

The latest example of this fact abuse came Monday night, when President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner took to the airwaves to present Americans their views of the national debt, the right course forward, and, of course, declare who’s to blame for this whole mess.

They spoke for about 20 minutes total but offered spare facts, despite the importance and convoluted nature of the debt debates. Nobody really knows what could happen, with or without agreement. It’s a crisis of conjecture.


(The only so-called experts in this saga are the credit-rating agencies, who I don’t personally trust farther than I could hand-toss a foreclosed home.)

If the president and the speaker wanted to level with the nation, they would say what they knew for certain, rather than posturing about the political ramifications of the other’s preferred way.

Facts are clunky and unmalleable. They can’t be moved or altered. They can be omitted, but never hidden. They can be ignored, but never erased. It’s little wonder they can be treated with disregard; we’re too quick to let the facts speak for themselves.

I, for one, think it’s time we spoke up for the facts.

Anthony Ronzio is editor and publisher of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email to [email protected]

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