Civil Rights and the nuisance of journalistic fairness

I’ll have a busy day tomorrow with over 100 addresses to stick lawnsigns up in. Maybe that’s why I tossed and turned in bed for a couple hours. I’ve got a lot on my mind not the least of which is an email from the keepers of Duluth’s Clayton, Jackson and McGhie memorial. They would like me to answer a questionnaire demonstrating that I’ve given some thought to race and will keep those thoughts in mind as a school board member.

I immediately thought of the dozen mostly history books I’ve read on the subject over the years or the numerous old columns I wrote which touched on the subject in my early years writing for the Reader. So I woke up and compiled a list to send them. Of course there are also the numerous mentions of the subject which can be found in the civil rights category to the right. I’m sure there are more in the Lincoln, Justice and History categories.

I went through the titles of my 116 old Not Eudora columns which ended in 2006 after I filed to run a Quixotic campaign against Congressmen Jim Oberstar. The Reader Weekly’s publisher didn’t want me to have an unfair platform to contest the Congressman’s million dollar campaign. I was intrigued with my last column which was titled “Always tell the truth.” I peeked at it and rather liked its conclusion.

Always tell the truth like Mark Twain did.

Twain, who was not always right, is nonetheless the most celebrated truth teller in American literature. Not just any author can, a hundred years after committing his words to paper, make a high school junior burst out laughing during study hall and earn the dirty look of his school’s most feared teacher. After this happened to me it’s no wonder that I’ve been a Twain fan for life.

Culled from his voluminous writings are more witty and wise aphorisms than you can shake a dead cat at. I’ve contemplated two of them in particular for years. The first is undeniably true: “Always tell the truth. This will gratify most people and astonish the rest.” I have tried to follow this advice for years as it echoes another great moralist, Jesus of Nazareth, who said the same thing somewhat less flippantly: “the truth will set you free.”

And like Jesus who used the shorthand fiction of parables to tell his truths so too did Twain use fiction to tell the truth. Those who doubted that black slaves were the equal of their white masters would certainly have been chagrined at the depiction of Miss Watson’s slave, Jim, risking his life to gather up the family that his kind masters had sold away from him. The readers who were annoyed with Twain’s depiction of Jim’s nobility were just like the Pharisees who could not see holiness in the much despised and heretical “good Samaritan.”

But then there is this contradiction from Twain: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

I’ll let the people who live in black and white and who war with the dangers of “relativism” wrestle with this advice but I adore it. Our best truth tellers often lie with their fiction to tell truths that ten truckloads of Fox News couldn’t convey

You can never go wrong quoting Mark Twain.

My next column will be the last until after the election. This time the opposition won’t have Oberstar’s titanic war chest. I won’t publish it myself on the Internet until it actually appears in ink on paper but I’ve set up a teaser page for it once that happens on the old Snowbizz website.

About the author