Can you imagine being known as “the most trusted man in America”?
What a weighty designation. How does one live up to that title? How does one live up to that title over a 19-year period? And yet, from 1962 to 1981, it is reported that two-thirds of all Americans got their evening news from Walter Cronkite, who died July 17 at 92.
The Bible says that a good name is rather to be had than silver or gold, and I have to ask myself, “Am I trustworthy”? If you tell me something in confidence, how long will it take for me to tell somebody? And if I just tell my wife and nobody else, have I still betrayed your trust? What’s the statute of limitations on a secret?
Just last week I received a phone call from somebody who was angry that I had given out his cell phone number.
“When I gave you that number, you promised you would never give it to anyone else,” he said.
I tried to explain that I made that promise over a year ago and that this was an extenuating circumstance where someone really needed to get in touch with him. He said I should have taken the person’s number and passed it on to him, at which point I’m thinking, “Hey, don’t give me homework.” (The Bible also says that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.)
I was listening to the radio the other day and I heard a man I know tell the host, “Anybody who knows me knows that I don’t lie.”
Oh, really? This is the same person who has lied to my face on four occasions in the past year. I’ve always trusted him, and he never gave me a reason to doubt him until last summer when I caught him in a boldfaced lie. He got angry when I persisted to ask him the same question in a different way. I’ve since caught him in several more “untruths.” I’ll never trust him again.
By the same token, I’m sure there are people who will never trust me again. Not necessarily because I lied to them, but maybe because I said I would do something for them or said I would be somewhere and never followed through. That would be a good reason to write me off.
As a news reporter, I’ve grown to distrust people, especially politicians. I know that in many cases, they’re only telling me what they want me to know. They spin the truth. They may not be lying, but they’re not telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help them God. Talk to their counterparts and you will get a completely opposite version of the same story. Whom do you trust?
How many times did President Clinton get caught in a lie during his time in the White House? And I’m not just talking about the big Monica lie, where he looked at the television camera and said, “I want you to listen to me. I’m gonna say this again. I did not . . .” you know the rest.
Clinton lied when he didn’t have to lie. It was as if he couldn’t help it. I wouldn’t believe him if he told me today was Friday.
I’d like to believe that to the best of my ability, I can be trusted in my role as a reporter. If somebody tells me something off the record, they shouldn’t expect to see it show up in one of my stories. If I happen to get the same information from a third party, I will always call the person to whom I first spoke and tell them that I got the information from another source and I’m going to print it. I will not attribute it to them, however.
I’ve written stories where people with opposing views of a subject have accused me of being biased. That says a lot, doesn’t it? It tells me that I’m playing it right down the middle.
On my desk is a placard that a friend brought back from the Newseum, in Washington D.C. It reads, “Trust me … I’m a reporter.”
Dennis Shaughnessey’s e-mail address is dshaughnessey @lowellsun.com.