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Fact gathering should not be a game of truth or consequences

BY TERESA MALLAM

Special to the News

A friend of mine lamented – from  a distance – “why can’t we just live in a world where there is truth?” The question kind of hung there, as if suspended in mid air, and I didn’t have a good answer.

The truth is the fact gatherers and truth seekers are tired. Run down. Tired of coy, evasive, self serving , side -stepping answers. Fed up with secrets and games and clandestine cover-ups.

Truth is often an elusive force. Only in fantasy there exists bountiful trees of truth. In real life, even if you shake it, truths will not just fall freely from the tree. You may have to go out on a limb to get it,

On Monday I’d been up until 4 a.m. reading non-stop  COVID-19 news and updates – what else? when I came across Prince George Citizen editor Neil Godbout’s opinion column which I read and re-read, silently applauding him for his brave decision to tackle a minefield of an issue.

Normally, I would not sing the praises of another writer. We tend to be a solitary and jealous lot, more inclined to practice the Caesar solution: bury the rival, quickly, under a pile of books. But we now live in ‘unprecedented’ times.’

I did risk offending princegeorgedailynews.ca /owner/editor Bill Phillips, host to my cozy guest spot here, but I checked with him and he right away said, “Go for it Teresa,” which I knew he would, because ‘we’re all in this together.’

This was bold of me because I was a very loyal news reporter for the Prince George Free Press (got me a 10-year service clock to prove it) and stayed until the newspaper closed in May 2015 ( before I could earn a bookend clock,)

During that time, our Black Press, and then Aberdeen owned newspaper was in a rival role with the Prince George Citizen. Doing battle as only a small, but brave, twice-weekly tab and a daily broadsheet can. David against Goliath.

So while dare and risk are part of what we do,  Godbout, in his probing and skilfully written opinion piece, risked serious backlash even posing the COVID-19 related concerns he did.

Such as the glaring, gaping holes that still go unfilled (like potholes in the North) and despite raised eyebrows, no concrete answers in sight.

Such as the rationale behind federal medical advisor  Dr. Theresa Tam’s decision to leave air travel to and from China open for weeks longer than her critics deemed safe, while she mulled over her fears of racism.

The column outed the various players’ possible missteps and laid bare the problems. Then he left it there, dangling, like my friend’s question. He must have known he would take some heat for it, but he probably hoped it would open up dialogue that might lead to useful answers.

There is no reason, in my view, why “talking heads” should not be fully frank and truthful in  answering any pertinent questions which may require an off -script response. In a courtroom setting, they would be required to by law.

Pretend I am a trial lawyer. I have asked a relevant question, key to the case, and the witness is evasive, contradictory, giving me answers that I know, based on the evidence so far, simply can not be true.

I probe and prod, then, tired of getting nothing, sigh loudly (good drama for the jury), pace slowly, then in a still patient, polite tone, say, “Please answer the question.” Still nothing.

But here’s the thing. After I sit down, the judge on the bench behind me who literally has my back says, “Witness, you have sworn to tell the truth. Do so. Answer the question.”

And, usually they do.

However, there are no rules for politicians and their puppets. They can dance around an issue forever, if they want to, or they need to. They do not have to be forthcoming because there is no presiding judge in the room whose job it is to get to the truth.

Knowledge is power. Maybe that’s why our various governments have always kept in check how much information we get. I don’t know.

Maybe they worry that a probing question will lead to another, and another, until finally some really pesky, persistent journalist stumbles upon the hastily buried truth … and then there’s that minefield to worry about,

Finding out the truth can be like the search for  socks and keys. Frustrating and often futile. We are inquisitive beings. With the right answers, we can fill in the blanks, add pieces to the puzzle, connect up the dots, 

We hate things don’t add up; false leads, evasive answers, bad smells – related to things that we are told but can’t quite swallow.

I don’t do hard news anymore, but when this pandemic is over, and it will be over,  it will be a very interesting and revealing time, filled with blame games, plenty of finger pointing, and lots of pondering “if onlys.”

For gatherers of the facts and seekers of the truth, it might yield a bounty of answers.

“Yes, there they are! At last. The truths. Elusive little buggers. Finally, my governmental queries are back, nothing blacked out. I’ve been searching for them everywhere, For months ( maybe years).”

I only wish I could be a fly on the wall of that parlimentarian post mortem. When heads roll (metaphorically) , models are ripped to shreds and spin doctors run out of wool,  the buzzing from me will be loud, because I’m not expecting to get an invite, nor do I expect members of the public to be in invited.

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