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George Zimmerman
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George Zimmerman

What really happened?

Media | Raw facts do matter

Issue: "Effective compassion," July 27, 2013

So what exactly do you think happened that night two years ago in Sanford, Fla.? Now that the trial is over, and all apart from the actual verdict, who do you think told the truth? George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin’s family?

And what do you think is the real story about what happened in Benghazi, Libya, that fateful night last September? Was it really an unavoidable set of circumstances that led to the death of four Americans? Or was it dereliction of duty on the part of Hillary Clinton’s State Department?

And what really happened at the Internal Revenue Service over the last couple of years? Was the bureaucracy doing the specific twisted will of a sinister administration in Washington? Or was it merely a case of careless incompetence?

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I asked questions like these 20 years ago in this space—except that the questions then were about David Koresh in Waco, Texas, Rodney King in Los Angeles, and an accurate count of the participants in a gay-lesbian parade in Washington. I asked the questions then, and again now, because I find folks everywhere who are eager to discuss the meaning of what’s going on in this troubled world. But how can you possibly talk about meaning if the basic facts haven’t first been established?

Right at that crucial point, I understand, some people argue that there is no such thing as a raw fact. Everything we know is conditioned by who we are, who taught us, when they taught us, whether we believed what they taught us back then, and a hundred different circumstances. I knew a young man once who rebelled against the multiplication tables, claiming their unreliability and falsehood simply because he so associated his father’s forcing him to learn those tables with that same father’s simultaneous desertion of his family.

We at WORLD believe firmly, of course, that while contexts and perspectives may differ, there are such things as raw facts. Although the same “fact” may look altogether different to two sincere observers, we believe there is a “reality” that can be pursued and ultimately nailed down. 

Indeed, it’s that conviction that makes our journalistic enterprise something worth doing. We don’t have to settle for a neutered stalemate when someone says dismissively: “Well, it all depends on how you look at it.” 

Debates about public policy events and issues may seem for a while to be hopelessly stuck in the mushy middle. But for the enterprising journalist, there’s always the challenge of finding one more fact, one more bit of unarguable evidence. Then the story will be fresh all over again—pushed toward one conclusion or another.

I’ve always told our staff at WORLD that one ultimate measure of our success as a news source is whether you as a reader, two or three times on every page, are saying to yourself: “I didn’t know that!” It’s possible we’ll earn such a response even with our opinions. But it’s much more likely, I think, that you’ll be responding that way when we are faithful and diligent to discover and report back to you a whole collection of “facts” about which there can be little or no disagreement. Whatever your news sources, you should be looking for those “facts” in the Benghazi story, the IRS story, and the George Zimmerman story. Even if the “facts” don’t fit the story line you prefer, stick with those facts!

I encourage you always to read WORLD that way. It’s important, to be sure, that our philosophy and style of journalism share the same biblical frame of reference. It’s important that we are able to assure you that the reporters and writers we employ and add to our staff along the way have that same starting point. It’s important that all of us together be asking and exploring regularly, “What is God up to in this world?”

But unless you and we carry out that assignment with those remarkable little building blocks called “facts,” we’re playing with propaganda—not journalism. In God’s order of things, that’s a kind of pretense you should never settle for.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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