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The Seventh Servant

Mon, October 08, 2007   |   Author: Ron Gray   |   | Share: Gab | Facebook | Twitter   

I had six faithful serving men

They taught me all I knew.

Their names are What and Why and When

And Where and How and Who.

—Rudyard Kipling

I learned that bit of doggerel from the late Jack Webster, when he was City Editor of the Vancouver Sun. Jack took a personal interest in the training of junior reporters—even if his manner was somewhat gruff. I'll never forget my first day as a copy-boy, filing paste-pots for the deskmen (in those pre-computer days), when Jack barked at me: "Curly! C'mere!"

Trembling, I stood before The Great Man.

"So you're the new boy, are ye?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, fer #@**% sakes, look alive and act intelligent!"

Those were the only words I heard from him for two weeks.

But later—while we were together in a car on an early-morning assignment, trying to get an interview and a picture before the police arrived—Jack taught me the Kipling verse. It was, he said, the reporter's formula for ensuring comprehensive coverage of any news story.

"However," he added, "there's one more question you should always ask."

"And that is…?"

"How d'ye know that?"

It's a very useful reminder, in these days when journalists, no less than their sources, often pontificate with platitudes of political correctness. (Jack's dictum that the reporter should be invisible, and let the readers reach their own conclusions, has long since disappeared into the maw of 'the new journalism', in which the reporter's opinion becomes the focus of the story.)

How do you know that? What's your evidence? Can you back up what you're claiming is a "truth" that "everyone knows"?

Marl Twin once wrote: "It ain't what people don't know that causes the most trouble; it's what they know that ain't so."

That's why it's good, from time to time, to ask-ourselves as well as others: "How d'ye know that?"

For example, this year's weird winter—balmy in Central Canada, frozen on the West coast—has revived alarums about "global warming"; yet the satellite data show that the global temperature, overall, has scarcely budged in 50 years; ice is melting in the Arctic, but the ice-pack is growing in Antarctica. Indeed, Greenland once had orchards, and rather than "runaway warming", we may be emerging from a minor ice-age. Similarly, "everyone knows" that the USA is a gun-happy, wild west frontier, where everyone has a gun and people are killing each other all the time. Yet if inner-city, drug-related gun-crimes are removed from the statistics, Canada and the UK actually have more violent crime than the United States. Indeed, "right-to-carry" laws in 38 states have caused violent crime to diminish sharply.

Yet people are still persuaded by inflammatory and one-sided DVDs like Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine which, by dramatizing unsubstantiated assumptions, make alleged "crises" seem real and politicians will use such prejudices to whip up support.

Gore and Moore are not wrong in calling us to be concerned about an issue; they're wrong in only presenting one side of the issue. Our challenge is to bring the information into balance. Asking "How d'ye know that?" when confronted by such statements about what "everybody knows", will make things much less emotional, much clearer and more rational.

With emotions set aside, we can get closer to the truth.

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