Finding truth by considering source

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There is a wonderful scene in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” when the two older Pevensie children are being grilled by their eccentric host, the Professor, about a dispute between their two younger siblings. At one point he asks the children a simple question, regarding the younger ones: “which is the more truthful?” When the oldest boy, Peter, acknowledges that it’s usually his sister, I think the two consider for the first time that her story, however fantastic, might actually be the truth.

I’ve been thinking about that scene a lot these last few weeks, because the issue of messenger credibility has been front and center. Consider, for instance, the competing narratives that have emerged regarding the new Jeffco school board. On the one hand, there is a story running through the Denver Post and other media, saying that the Board has taken extraordinary steps in hiring a lawyer for itself, possibly in violation of both Board policy and Colorado’s Sunshine Law. Shortly thereafter, a competing narrative emerged, in defense of the Board, saying it simply acted quickly under difficult circumstances in the best interest of the district.

For me, contradictory information like this forces me, too, to ask “which side is usually the more truthful?” That is difficult to answer, because I have friends and trusted acquaintances on both sides of the debate. By the same token, I know that people on one side have a vested interest in seeing this Board fail; likewise, there are those who have an interest in seeing the Board succeed. So, who do you trust?

Luckily, this past weekend, a former member of the School Board, who is hardly an ideological ally of the new Board majority, took to the pages of the Denver Post to defend the new Board. Paula Noonan, while more closely aligned with candidates who lost, always struck me as a straight shooter. For my money, any time you get someone trustworthy to partially cross ideological lines, you have the beginnings of the truth.

The same sort of thing happened on the national stage last week when a reporter for the New York Times published a lengthy piece defending the Obama administration’s narrative vis-a-vis the Benghazi attacks last year. To accomplish this, he had to contradict his own paper, several elements of the national security apparatus, and two Congressional investigations. And on top of that, one of the people he interviewed has come forward to reveal that his interview was less investigative than it was to confirm a pre-determined story line. But, hey, what’s a few little obstacles like that when you have political points to score?

It’s a shame, really, that we have to work so hard in 21st century America to get at the truth. Have we really become a nation more interested in spin than in reality? Is it any wonder that, according to polls, the two least-trusted institutions in American life are the political class and the media?

Wouldn’t it just be easier if everybody would just reveal their agendas? The Times and NBC can just call themselves “Government Media,” Fox and the Wall Street Journal can call themselves “Opposition Media,” and we can all proceed from a position of knowledge.

But, in the meantime, do yourself a favor, and question the information you receive, and always look for competing viewpoints. Until you know the agenda of a source, you don’t know anything.

Michael Alcorn is a music teacher and fitness instructor who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. He graduated from Alameda High School and the University of Colorado-Boulder.

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