dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

A Truth-Telling Strategy That Will Totally Work

January 3rd, 2019 by dk

We’re going to have to amend the playbook, because it’s not giving us a plan that addresses willful, repeated lies from positions that project authority — positions that have always demanded and deserved respect.

News gathering is always one or two steps removed from actual events. I tell you stories so that you can feel like you were there, even though you weren’t. Most stories become even further removed, especially the big ones, because we follow and understand statistics better than people.

Stories about people are always complicated. Those complications are easily hidden behind numbers. Statistics are always less than the whole truth, even if they are not themselves untrue.

The present challenge to journalism is very different. According to The Washington Post, President Trump made 7,546 false or misleading claims through Dec. 20, his 700th day in office. How can journalists respond to such rampant disregard for truth?

How can we retain our integrity, covering subjects who have abandoned theirs? When sources spew public falsehoods, should we report them as false or refuse to report them at all? Either way, we’re trading in Fake News. It’s a Catch-22.

Not reporting everything the president says won’t work in a media landscape as diverse as ours. Even if we could, it wouldn’t matter. The president communicates directly to millions of followers with a tweet, bypassing all the gatekeepers.

No editor wants to clutter a page with disclaimers and dependent clauses. They can insert “without providing evidence” and “despite the consensus among experts,” but the president’s words must still be presented as he said them.

Fact checkers do their best to keep up, but their columns are read most often by people who already have a strong bias they are looking to confirm. Follow-up stories debunking previous assertions seldom attract the same attention given to the original claim. Casual readers prefer to read what’s new when they are reading the news. Corrections and clarifications never are.

So let’s try this. Use italics whenever a quote asserts a fact that cannot be verified or is verifiably false. Television news can blur the edges around a picture when the statements being given are untrue. Newscasters and reporters should signal dubious claims with “air quote” gestures. If radio and podcasts manipulated the voice making unfounded claims, the cartoonish intent could be conveyed without omitting words spoken.

Each medium will need its own signal to its audience that something less than true is being told. Truth be told, we’ve needed this for a long time. Who really wants to read an in-depth follow piece about whether a hastily departing executive really ends up spending more time with their family?

We’ve delegated the eye-rolling mostly to opinion writers, but their readers are similar to the fact checkers’. What we need — and suddenly, desperately so — are signals to use when the words that were spoken are somehow less weighty than what’s actually so. Italics can do that without slowing the reader or cluttering the copy.

Will it work? Of course it will work. All we can say for sure is, we’ve got to try something.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

Tags: No Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.