Absolute and Reported Truth: Recognizing the Difference

Elizabeth Kuhr, Staff Writer

In an eager endeavor to digest all that the news has to offer about the Arab Spring, particularly with regard to the current Egyptian and Syrian revolutionary movements working to reform the countries’ political spheres, I’ve come across many well-seasoned critics pointing out the blatant and buried flaws in the Western world’s attempt to report on this watershed moment.

I recently heard it argued, for example, that, because of the U.S.’s vested interest in a political partnership with the Muslim Brotherhood, The New York Times has become a major sympathizer for pro-Morsi Egyptians who were ostracized when the public and army ousted the president this summer. The paper, frequently featuring bloodied Brotherhood protestors in their headlines, has failed to mention the Broth- erhood’s history of violent attacks against unarmed civilians in Cairo.

But sometimes, this “misreporting” is unintentional, not political.

With regard to Syria, correspondents from the Western world and their far-flung journalist cohorts from other countries scrambling in support of the world powers, argue that cultural barriers, the country’s lockdown on foreigners and minimal contact with those on the ground hinder their ability to publish works that describe the conflict in whole.

In response to these gaps in media representation, the communities affected and those in opposition, critically responding to a given event, rally for the projection and protection of their authentic voices and experiences. Although it in part positively empowers some to vocalize concerns and share personal narratives, this problem nonetheless continues to prevail in journalism and is rarely discussed.

In Introduction to Documentary, Bill Nichols, a contemporary documentary

theoretician, reflects on Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s cinéma vérité, a theory relevant to this major but infrequently ad- dressed flaw in journalism. The theory argues that footage of an unscripted interaction captures only the “truth of the encounter,” but not an absolute truth. It doesn’t, and can’t, make a strong, generalized postulation about reality.

Many truths exist. Perspective, identity, motive, memory and institution — all of which depend upon an individual’s background — impact what one considers “truth.”

The problem is that these truths cannot be reconciled in one clip or publication. Factors like being an American paper and maintaining its reputation for ground- breaking investigative journalism influence whom The New York Times contacts for interviews, what takes priority and what they ultimately understand as the truth.

So what do we do? I propose we think like Rouch and Morin when it comes to the news we read. Remain cognizant of the potential backgrounds, motives and goals of the source from which you consume news. Read, watch and listen to pieces from a spectrum of publications. Hop on the citizen journalism bandwagon — a rapidly growing trend of civilian reporting through forums, op-eds and social media.

Trust that what you’re digesting is truth, but always assume another truth exists.