Journalists often agonize over their jobs, while struggling to reach the truth

·4 min read

Wielding a Bell & Howell 16-millimeter camera, I stood alert as sheriff’s deputies led the young woman along a Tulsa County courthouse passage toward her arraignment on a charge of murdering her husband. My camera clicked on and began buzzing.

Her glance flew up to me. Struggling with the deputies, one on each side, she tried to turn away. She tried to hide her face but, handcuffed, couldn’t manage it. She even dragged the deputies a few feet backward down the corridor. I got the images my boss wanted and watched it on KVOO-TV news that night.

This happened, believe it or not, 67 years ago when I was a college sophomore in journalism working part time for a buck an hour — not bad, given it was equal to $10.28 today. That’s way better than Kansas’ current lousy minimum wage of $7.25.

Then a fresh agony arose when the boss, Ken Miller, a great old radio newsman just starting in TV, ordered me back a week later for film of the same woman being dragged to her preliminary hearing.

“She’ll just run from me again,” I said. “Why don’t we just use the first coverage?”

Ken ordered me to film the woman a second time. I refused.

“Why?” he asked me. “Why can’t you do that?”

I was officially a Southern Baptist then, though no longer “on fire for the Lord.” But I have always been impressed with Jesus of the Gospels.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” I told him, missing the King James text but catching the spirit.

Ken didn’t fire me. I quit anyway. I’m glad to say that Ken Miller sent no one to film that woman a second time.

During my last two years in college, one job after the other, I operated a pan-filling machine in a Wonder bakery, worked as a carpenters’ helper on a new motel and drove a pickup delivering 55-gallon detergent drums for the Remwood Chemical Company.

When no vital public interest is involved, I still hate that camera-in-the-face heartlessness — often presented in TV dramas as if it were the only work of journalists. After graduation, I returned to newspapering. Except when reporting on real crooks, I was mostly able to stick with “do unto others” through a 45-year career in journalism and teaching — 15 with the Kansas City Star, from 1958-’73.

Donald Trump built a political career on his accusation that mainstream journalists are lying villains, creating nothing but “fake news.” He has made nearly 40% of Americans believe that.

This from a multi-millionaire who brags about paying no taxes (“that make me smart”), meanwhile bankrupting six corporations to avoid paying debts. He treasured the undocumented immigrants he hired on his golf courses, the Polish laborers he used to build Trump Tower (before stiffing them for their wages).

The son and grandson of immigrants, husband of two immigrant wives plus a single American wife, Donald Trump fuels his advancement by denouncing immigrants.

Contrary to Trump’s seething, journalists do more good and hold closer to the truth than any force on earth. We are not perfect, but we try. Truth is our profession.

Right-wing hosts often ridicule “the chattering classes,” of which they, themselves, are a prime example. Yet Fox News would have nothing to chatter about if working journalists did not uncover the facts those hosts use and misuse. Their lies have blasted a gigantic hole in American life, dividing us, endangering our future as a nation.

COVID is fake, many of them tell us, a plot perpetrated by “elites,” while racial injustice and climate change plus most of science and scientists themselves are more “fake news.” They claim our abundant guns make us safer, while America suffers the highest gun murder and suicide rates among advanced nations.

If you want to read the most accurate history of our world as it unfolds, I recommend mainstream journalism. Try major television news sources, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC — plus most local television news. Try the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal.

And, yes, try an award-winning newspaper founded in 1880: the one you are reading now. The Kansas City Star.

Contact the columnist at hammerc12@gmail.com.

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