I, like everyone else, spend a lot of time attempting to decipher facts from fiction. Whether I am looking to purchase an automobile, trying to determine which stain remover will work best on my berber carpet, or reading a news report, I am attempting to figure out the facts so that I can make an informed choice as a consumer or citizen. Most businesses and individuals will claim that they are giving you the facts; indeed their credibility will depend on it. Therefore, when I recently read David Brooks’s op-ed piece about the cheap, unnecessary, and “got you” nature of the facts that were reported by Michael Hastings in his article published in Rolling Stone Magazine on General Stanley McChrystal, I was flabbergasted. Rarely do I have the chance to encounter someone in such a respected position as Brooks who openly assaults the truth.
I, like Brooks, am not always a big fan of facts. Michael Hastings, who had a privileged position as an embedded journalist with General McChrystal, dared to expose some unpleasant facts. As a trial lawyer, I often had to deal with unpleasant facts concerning my clients. In my personal life, I sometimes have to face unpleasant facts. While I can choose to ignore or disregard any undesirable information, I will not openly admit that I want to avoid the truth. For justice to prevail and society to progress, the facts must come out. On a personal level, I generally feel that to improve my life I need to search for the facts. Therefore, I pour over newspapers, consumer reports, blogs, and other sources of information to find them. So what do I discover? Truth appears hard to get. Facts appear scarce. The world is full of spin. It therefore makes your trusted sources of information that much more valuable.
What I found most disturbing about David Brooks’s op-ed piece is that rather than showing any regard for facts, he fears their consequences. Facts may lead to, as Brooks would say, another scalp on the wall. But if journalists are not expected to report facts then why not read the National Enquirer or watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report on the Comedy Channel to get the news? Without a reasonable expectation of getting the facts, news becomes nothing more than mere entertainment.
In our free speech happy and First Amendment proud society where we read and hear countless stories, the public, the judges, render a verdict on the multiple versions of the facts before them. Brooks could have chosen to dispute the facts presented in the Rolling Stone Magazine article. Instead, he appears to accept the facts and then lament that they were ever exposed. He champions silence as the best and most dignified exercise of First Amendment rights by an embedded reporter due to the perceived inconvenience that the journalist’s story may create. Does Brooks have a compelling point? Maybe he does. But as one who is trying to discover the facts, he just made it on my blacklist.
David Brooks is an outstanding writer; this is probably one reason why he has a job with the New York Times. I am sure that English professors would laud his ability to construct sentences and paragraphs. However, if I want facts, I will view his columns with great suspicion. Whose back is he covering and what interests is he protecting? What I do know is that if I ever need to read quality fiction, I can always count on David Brooks.