We probably can’t help looking over the blaring headlines of “supermarket tabloids” as we’re waiting to check out our groceries. The National Enquirer, The Globe, The Star, Weekly World News — all compete for our attention with outlandish “news” reports. We’ve learned to distinguish them from the real press and take anything we read there with a giant grain of salt.
A much greater variety of news reporting confronts us on the internet, ranging from in-depth analysis of hard national and world news events, to fanciful conspiracy theories, to prurient speculation on the private lives of celebrities. In this spectrum of information sources, Gawker has carved out its niche as “a snarky daily weblog that reports and editorializes about news and gossip.” Recent headlined articles have included “Stoned and Screaming Ice Cream Truck Driver Arrested in Underwear” and “Satanic Statue Unveiled in Detroit.”
It’s been kind of fun to watch as Gawker has itself been the subject of a lot of gawking during the past two weeks. Two particular articles have aroused significant criticism, even from other tabloid journals. The first involved former wrestler Hulk Hogan using the N-word to describe some of the men his daughter might be dating. The other was the release of a tape that led to the “outing” of a large media company’s CFO as he called for a male escort. Accusations and threats of lawsuits have led to the resignation of two of Gawker‘s top level editors, as well as a re-examination of some of its policies.
I listened to an interview of Nick Denton, founder and CEO of Gawker, as he tried to explain why the story about the male escort was printed in the first place and then why it was later withdrawn. After explaining how difficult these calls were for the editorial staff, Denton said their two basic criteria for posting a story are: “Is it true, and is it interesting?” This struck me with a genuine “Aha!” moment of insight.
My instinct about the second criterion, “Is it interesting?” is that this is a serious understatement. They’re obviously looking for more than interesting. Words like “sensational,” “scandalous” and “explosive” come to mind.
But it’s the first criterion, “Is it the truth?” that, for me, brings up the more important issue. Denton’s statement assumes there is only one truth and we all agree on what it is. As a matter of fact the “truth” of what Hulk Hogan said is just the beginning. His use of the N-word was part of a macho display during a compromising situation with another man’s wife, which puts a different slant on the “truth” of his words. When he tried to explain himself in a press release, he admitted “I am a racist, to a point,” but he promised to use his public embarrassment to “improve as a person.” That’s Hogan’s “truth” about the incident. His daughter Brook Bollea has expressed her “truth” about him in a recently-written loving poem, “If You Knew My Father.” Denton’s simple “Is it true?” ignores the complex levels of truth involved. Every article Gawker writes chooses a truth, a perspective from which to write the story
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There was a dramatic moment in Jesus’ trial before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate:
Jesus said, “For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)
As an educated Roman, Pilate was familiar with the great, searching mind of the Greek philosopher Socrates, who more than four hundred years earlier had plumbed the depth of human thinking about the sometimes-elusive nature of truth. His disciple Plato expressed Socrates’ conclusions in this way:
Isn’t it a bad thing to be deceived about the truth, and a good thing to know what the truth is? For I assume that by knowing the truth you mean knowing things as they really are. What is at issue is the conversion of the mind from the twilight of error to the truth, that climb up into the real world which we shall call true philosophy. (Plato, Republic)
Governor Pilate took Socrates and Plato to be saying that truth was ultimately unfathomable and unknowable. Jesus seemed to be getting to the heart of Plato’s insight, that truth, the ultimate TRUE truth behind all the partial truths we humans hold on to, can be known and understood, but only by the “conversion of the mind” (Plato’s words) of seekers who “belong to the truth” (Jesus’ words).
There’s Gawker truth; there’s Pilate truth; there’s Jesus truth.
— Pastor George Van Alstine
Other interesting quotes about truth”
“We prefer to believe what we prefer to be true.” (Francis Bacon, 1561-1626)
“So near is falsehood to truth that a wise man would do well not to trust himself on the narrow edge.” (Marcus Tullius Cicero,106-43 BCE)
“Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced…more true than the truth itself.” (Irenaeus of Lyons, c.130-202)
“Mistakes live in the neighborhood of truth and therefore delude us.” (Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1941)
“Truth is what exists without justification or interpretation; but, it requires careful observation and must be based on knowledge, accuracy, and logic. It has been established empirically that there is a human tendency to mistake perceptions for truth.” (Unknown)