I have been reading Steve Paikin’s response to the allegations made against him.
He denies the allegations, and so far, no one else has made any similar allegations against him.
I remember one report he did a couple of decades ago, when the Civil War in the former Yugoslavia broke out: he had actually went and did something most journalists at the time didn’t do: investigate. The late Daniel Pearl, also did his own research at the time as well.
Paikin had done a very good job showing the situation as it was (showing that one so-called “concentration camp” was nothing of the sort as it was a haven for refugees with children playing in the snow), and I had always appreciated that sensible style of reportage.
But all the talk about him this week reminded me of something that has nothing to do with #MeToo and everything to do with the death of journalism.
Journalism no longer has any sense of curiosity or adventure. It is about playing it safe, trying not to offend people, and pandering and appeasing various faction.
It’s not working, of course.
Adventure requires humility, admitting you do not knowing everything, and acknowledging there are things to be learned — a mystery and riddle to solve, and a dilemma to face. You are part detective, part scientist — ready to explore the deepest truths of the universe.
You make mistakes, you learn, and you keep plugging, verifying information as you go along.
Those days are gone.
Opinion replaced fact — and that’s when the arrogance took over, and if you are arrogant, you become unteachable.
There is piece of folksy logic that opinions can never be wrong. That in itself is not opinion, but a lie.
And opinion is not equal or more important than the truth — it is merely an interpretation of it – a theory of reality.
I cannot tell you the number of times in my life that I have discussed boring and non-controversial facts that took me years to find and verify — and had people immediately dismiss my facts with their opinion.
People have been downright cruel about it, implying that I am lying or their opinion has more value than the facts I found. When I am in a particularly determined mood, I have pulled out the hard evidence to show how those facts contradict those opinions, and I have had people turn away, close their eyes, snap, “I don’t care!”, and in some cases — run away.
I wasn’t showing those facts to change anyone’s minds.
I did show them knowing full well that the opinionist would flee — and that they knew there was someone who saw it.
They thought nothing of impugning my character, comeptency, and intelligence, stooping to personal attacks. I never insulted anyone — all I did was show facts.
I even had one woman accuse me of “throwing a book” at her when I merely placed it on the table in front of witnesses. She had made the claim that journalists never lied — and I said there are many who were caught, and pulled out Don’t Believe It, and said it was a good starting point to see that not everyone who reports on facts does so honestly.
She threw the biggest temper tantrum I had ever seen, and I have seen some doozies in my time.
There was no violence in the exchange, but to her, I was throwing the truth at her, and to opinionists, showing truth and reality is a violent act because it shatters their toxic fantasy world.
There are many people who cannot handle basic reality. They are always trying to pull people down into their passive abyss — putting down education, for instance.
Yes, educational systems are flawed, but it doesn’t mean you stop educating people — you find ways to improve that system.
It is the tantrums that made journalists freeze in place. They take the insults and name-calling as something other than a feint used to keep truth and reality away from the theories.
So journalists began to explore less and less, relying on scripts to keep the angry mobs from screaming.
There were ways around it, for instance. You find more facts. You show no fear or make any apologies. You listen to people. You do not ignore people, but you do not pander to them either.
You have to push beyond the tantrums to get to the truth — that’s where you need an adventurous spirit. When people throw fits — they are using chaos as misdirection — hoping you blame yourself instead of questioning what is that tantrum-thrower trying to hide.
The fits are the spiritual equivalent of a dark forest. You don’t turn around: you walk in the direction of that darkness. You find out more by challenging and asking questions.
You find more facts and verify them.
You solve equational mysteries like a scientific detective. You approach the situation from different angles.
At no time do you take the yelling personally.
It’s just a ruse.
In the 36 Stratagems of War, one of the stratagems for commanding superiority is making a feint in the East, while Attacking in the West, or, a permutation of it, offence is the best defence. If you call me out, you are hoping that I will be be too busy defending myself to take a good look at what you are doing.
As a journalist, I saw those games. The second someone was attacking me, I absolutely knew I was on the right track.
These days, journalists retreat, and then find an easy target to attack, all while pretending they didn’t buckle.
It is not about attacking people.
It is about finding facts.
And that simple mandate requires an adventurous and humble disposition.
The West has lost the sense, and replaced it with something very toxic and divisive.
Journalism was supposed to bring us together, not tear us apart.