I had always thought this oft-repeated nugget of advice from my father was fairly obvious. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the truth, but of course the alternative is immoral, indefensible and unwise.
Yet, in the current political climate where policy has promoted the dissemination of alternative facts, hyperbole and misrepresentation, the obvious reminder bears repeating. If we expect honesty from our children, friends, employers and the media, is it so strange to expect it from our political leaders?
If the implicit purpose of a fair, objective, transparent and independent media is to speak truth to power and to lend a voice to the powerless, their adherence to the truth has never been more important. Whenever a news outlet makes a claim, it needs to verify it by multiple reliable sources before releasing that news to the public. The stakes are too high to play fast and loose with any aspect of truth, despite the deadline pressure created by our 24/7, realtime news cycle. Media omissions, distortions, inaccuracies and biases make the weary public increasingly skeptical, while accountability ensures trustworthiness. Fact-checking results in truth-telling.
Media watchdogs have historically tested the politics of their time. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), a newspaperman-turned politician, coined this phrase about the honesty policy. He — like his fellow Founding Fathers — had a knack for calling out potential pitfalls as our country developed its young democracy. As a Revolutionary patriot defying the impositions of English rule, he also firmly believed that “Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.”
In addition to helping draft the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, Franklin founded universities, libraries, and the U.S. Post Office; he shaped the foreign policy of our new government; he published newspapers, essays and books; he invented the Franklin stove and bifocals; he pioneered advances in science and electricity… And he apparently foresaw the rise of divisive, erosive social media, as he said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain — and most fools do.”
While opinion-sharing can be illuminating, keep honesty as your best policy and try to keep your criticisms, condemnations and complaints to a minimum. Our civil society depends on it.