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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: Credibility vital

by Mike Masterson | December 27, 2020 at 8:52 a.m.

I've previously told readers of the fellow (his name escapes me today) who two decades ago told me that something as simple as credibility would be worth money in the future.

At the time, I was slightly dubious, although I understood the logic. Turns out, in this period of dishonesty, rampant fabrications and Machiavellian tactics applied to grabbing and retaining power over our citizens, he might have been the second coming of Nostradamus.

Our once relatively united and largely ethical society has plummeted into a cesspool of deception and greed. The corruption has taken firm root in a relatively brief period. Elected officials instruct citizens not to do the very things these supposed "public servants" then do without qualms. Talk about a credibility gap!

I'm by no means alone in such opinions, as evidenced by recent letters to the editor.

Clarence Richmond of Searcy observed: "It is not easy for the average reader to figure out who is being honest and who is not. When headlines scream the words 'liar' and 'lies' without credible evidence to support such condemnation, the winner is the one who can scream the loudest."

Reader David Dickey of Sherwood wondered how a citizen is to know what to believe in a society dependent on accurate information rather than agenda-soaked media spin.

And James Hannon of Hot Springs pointed out that an editorial had mentioned having to occasionally remove loaded words and phrases used by The Associated Press, causing him to wonder, "How could anyone believe anything with the AP listed as a source?"

Hannon explained, "My personal choice is to ignore any articles with AP or wire services listed as the source." Wonder how many others feel likewise? What a shame, valued readers.

Embracing emotional screeching and calculated partisan falsehoods in place of maturity, truth and common sense cuts deeply into the fabric of our national culture and our future. It's difficult to overstate the damage this rejection of truth (stemming largely from our political partisan divide) has done to America.

And many of my mainstream-media colleagues can accept the majority of accountability for this tragic development through biased, nonfactual and incomplete reporting that has pretty much degenerated into talking heads venting their specific agendas. It's not remotely close to the journalism I was taught back in the early 1970s.

Such flagrant tainting of truth flies in the face of this newspaper's publisher's core values appearing daily on page two. "Credibility is the greatest asset of any news medium," writes Walter Hussman. "... The pursuit of truth is a noble goal of journalism ... . When a newspaper delivers both news and opinions, the impartiality and credibility of the news organization can be questioned."

I can only say that's exactly what the frustrated letter-writers are expressing.

Finally, I happened across a cartoon on social media the other day that pretty well summarized our nation's pathetic state of affairs when it comes to so many among us choosing emotional overreaction, conveniently overlooked truth and affronts to invaluable credibility and veracity.

The single panel pictured a game-show host addressing three contestants: "Sorry, Arthur, your answer was actually correct, but Paul shouted his opinion louder so he gets the point. And an extra bonus point also goes to Sue, as she was offended by your answer."

By the way, and for those who apparently misunderstand my role from time to time, I write three opinion columns weekly, which represent exactly that, my opinions rather than news reporting.

Christmas in freedom

Willie Mae Harris. the blind Black lady whose life sentence was commuted last summer by Gov. Asa Hutchinson after serving 34 years behind bars for the murder of her chronically abusive husband, spent this Christmas in the shared apartment with her daughter near Dallas.

She says she is faring well and staying healthy, and is happy to have freedom at age 73 to spend her first Christmas with family since she was locked away in 1985 only to become blinded by disease while incarcerated.

Likewise for Belynda Goff, who was freed from prison by a circuit court in June 2019 after spending 23 years of a life sentence for supposedly murdering her husband Stephen in 1994, although not a shred of physical evidence was used to convict her and she protested her innocence from the day she was charged. Although she had witnesses that would have cast serious doubts on any role in that brutal murder, they were never called to explain what they knew.

Goff at 58 lives happily on the East Coast with members of her family and has been reacclimating to the joys of freedom.

As far as I'm concerned, the rebirth from darkness into light for these ladies provides more than enough reason for Christmas celebration.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

--–––––v–––––--

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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