Early on as a freshman at the University of Oregon, I happened across “the newspaper room.” In an older part of the library, high-ceilinged, tall-windowed, with rows of wooden tables — and quiet. It quickly became my favorite place to study.
Eventually I noticed that “the newspaper room” had newspapers. Lots of newspapers.
From Washington, D.C. And Little Rock. From Los Angeles and Des Moines and Albuquerque. And more — English and foreign language papers from around the world. From London and Berlin. From Riyadh and Jerusalem. From Montreal and Taipei.
They say that travel transforms a person into a global citizen, providing a broader understanding of the world by exposing travelers to new views, new perspectives and different ways of looking at the world. I couldn’t afford to travel. Still, in the newspaper room, I could read papers from around the country and around the world.
People from other places expressed views that had never occurred to me. People from other countries had opinions about American foreign and domestic policy that I had never seen in any American news source — often strong or critical views and, sometimes, views that made perfect sense.
The Saudi Arabian paper might have a very different take on the transfer of government power in Rhodesia than a paper from Canada. The Buenos Aires Times and the Times of London certainly had different perspectives on the Falkland War that Argentina was waging against Britain. Sometimes I would struggle to read papers in French or Spanish or German.
It was hard to know what was more amazing—the fact that so many perspectives existed, or the actual perspectives themselves.
It is another amazing fact that now, through technology, the same diversity of views I found in the newspaper room is available to anyone who has internet access, at the touch of a few keys. It’s so easy to read a broad variety of news and opinion pieces to get views from different places and perspectives.
Which causes me to think about about the significance of facts.
The MacMillan Dictionary defines a “fact” as “a piece of true information.” Other sources define a fact as “truth” or “reality.”
So of course it was concerning when presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway asserted in 2017 that the new Trump administration would base its policies on “alternate facts” — on some “alternative” to truth or reality. And for four years years now, the Trump administration has deflected criticism of its policies by calling the press “the left-wing media,” “the enemy of the people,” or denouncing negative coverage as “fake news.”
For someone who studied journalism in college, those attacks have been amazing. In journalism classes, students were consistently taught the importance of striving for truthfulness, accuracy, impartiality and public accountability. Most students seemed to accept such principles as an ethical mandate. Given that such principles are commonly taught in schools of journalism, it occurs to me that it would be impossible to corral the entire, irreverent American press into speaking with a single voice.
It would be easier to herd cats.
Today, when I watch the news for different perspectives, it’s hard to escape the feeling that “alternate facts” have developed into actual, competing, alternate realities. Every day, nearly 150,000 more Americans are contracting the easily transmissible, potentially deadly coronavirus virus. A stunning 350,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and it continues to spread like wildfire. Yet millions of Americans still travel, fly, meet in large groups, drink, party and congregate, without masks, and without apparent concern about the virus’ spread or its human and economic costs.
Faced with these two irreconcilable realities — these very different views of the world — we might all be smarter if we obtained news from a variety of sources, to help us separate facts from fiction and to get different perspectives on what’s really going on out there.
And it’s so interesting.
Anne Morrison is a La Grande resident and retired attorney who has lived in Union County since 2000.