The other day we had a story about a local legislative bill that would place a three-year moratorium on certain kinds of artificial turf used for football fields and other playgrounds in California. Some worry that the recycled materials used could cause cancer. No one knows for sure, and the moratorium would allow for proper research. It’s important here because we have at least three public artificial turf fields used by thousands of kids every year.
So we asked the guy who served as project manager on all those projects and he assured us that our fields are not made with those suspect recycled materials. His assurance felt kind of off-hand. Nothing to see here, he says.
We wondered if he was lying?
I say that not to cast aspersions. He’s a salt-of-the-earth character who is involved in many wonderful local projects and sort of beloved. I don’t believe he would do anything that he knew would harm kids. I do think it’s possible he believes the concerns overblown and that it would be best for all if we just left it alone. (Epilogue: As we researched the materials used in our fields, the project manager sent us an email acknowledging that he was wrong… our fields do contain the suspect materials.) …
There was a fascinating column in the Columbia Journalism Review recently dealing with the lies people tell. Rona Kobell relives the time she fell for a lie and how it had real consequences for her career and the way she came to do her job thereafter.
We sometimes think of liars as heathens who do so with ill motive. We think people would only lie to enrich themselves or tear down an opponent in some way. But sometimes lies are more subtle than that … the guy lies about his military record, the new city manager lies just a bit in her resume, the singer says he went to Julliard when he wasn’t really accepted. And some people lie just because they don’t want to hurt someone they love.
All of these things may be fine in some contexts — on Facebook or to friends over the dinner table. But they can certainly drag down the reputation of reporter and news source.
Most of us have told untruths here and there. It doesn’t make us bad people, necessarily. That propensity is good to remember if you are a reporter.