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Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

Who, did what, where, when and why are basic questions you ask as a journalist and as a historian. The first four question are more fact-driven, but why of any event occurred can be very subjective, and you need to watch out for spin. A few years back, I watched a well-known television journalist interview a North Korean colonel, when the colonel remarked that the United States and South Korea had started the Korean War by invading North Korea. Of course, it was the North Koreans who invaded South Korea. The journalist didn't challenge the colonel's facts, and, assuming the journalist knew the facts, anybody who did not know about the Korean War would think the colonel's remarks were true. Since neither the journalist or the colonel were alive during the Korean War, the colonel may believe it is true, but any Western journalist covering North Korea should know some basic facts.

By way of contrast, Peter Jennings was originally hired by ABC because he was good-looking. But he wasn't satisfied that he knew enough about field reporting, and became a correspondent in the Middle East. He learned his trade on the ground, and became, in my opinion, the best news anchor in the mainstream television since Walter Cronkite. He kept his reporters out of the spin room after any debate!

As for economists and political scientists, most of their theories go back, at least, to the nineteenth century, and their ideas have been tested in various countries. However, theories are not facts and, as in religion, there is no such thing as uniformity of belief. However, there is a tendency to turn these theories into secular religions. One size does not fit everyone!

Pervis James Casey

Riverside, CA

Jan 30 2010 - 4:06pm