By Curtis R. Joseph, Jr
During my sophomore year at Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, my mentor, Professor Robert DeMaria, sent me and a fellow Mass Communications major to Winchester, Virginia to cover a town hall meeting. Unbeknownst to us was the fact the agenda featured a highly contentious issue, one that remains the source of division throughout our country even to this very day: the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces.
So, there we were, two young black kids, pulling into a foreign town, which was overrun by people wearing Confederate regalia, waving Confederate flags, and shouting unpleasantries. Being that I was from Louisiana, I’d encountered my fair share of Confederate flags. However, my classmate was from Brooklyn, New York, and she was terrified. I assured her that I wouldn’t let anything happen to her, and I advised her that I would take the issue up with our professor the following day.
Fortunately, we covered the meeting without incident. When I entered the professor’s office the next morning, he saw the anger in my eyes, and he headed me off at the pass. He stated that he would not apologize for sending us to the meeting. However, he admitted that he owed us an apology for not telling us about the hot-button issue on the agenda. More importantly, he used the opportunity as a teaching moment to stress the point that, as journalists, our duty was to find out what happened in the world on a certain day and to report it objectively to our readership or viewership. As members of the fourth estate, we were charged with reporting the facts and only the facts. In other words, ours was a quest for truth. Which brings me to the 4-Way Test.
Approximately three years ago, my father-in-law, invited me to a lunch meeting of the Rotary Club of Shreveport, of which I am now a proud member. At the conclusion of the meeting, the members and guests stood and recited the test, which provides as follows:
“Of the things we think, say, or do,
- Is it the truth?
- Is it fair to all concerned?
- Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
Suffice it to say, I was fascinated by such a litmus test. And I was curious as to its origins. As it turns out, the test was penned by Herbert J. Taylor in the early 1930s. Taylor sought to save the Club Aluminum Products distribution company from imminent bankruptcy. He firmly believed that a change in mentality was the first step in righting the ship. After all, as I think, I am. Basically, by establishing a set of guidelines that pointed toward elevated ethics and morals, Taylor changed the overall climate of the company which, in turn, changed the company’s fortunes.
I make specific mention of the fact that the test leads off with the threshold inquiry—Is the thing true? Prior to assessing its equitableness, its benevolence, or its usefulness, Taylor weighed the veracity of the thing. Is it the truth? As I write this article, our President is in the midst of a second impeachment and our country is on the brink of violence, poised to erupt at all corners, not from without, but from within. Yet, one can channel surf the various news outlets and find altogether different versions of the truth depending upon one’s appetite. There is actually a new term for this phenomenon—“alternative facts”. I’m fairly certain my grandmother wouldn’t accept such a term. She’d just call it a lie. For his part, Dan Rather has lamented that we have entered a post-factual America.
As a nation, we’ve recently witnessed an attack, by American citizens, on the very seat of our country’s government. The day will, no doubt, go down as one of the worst in our history. Insofar as attention spans are fickle, the discussion in many circles has pivoted from the mob riot at the Capitol to the fact that various social media platforms have suspended certain individuals’ accounts in the wake of the events of January 6, 2021.
When the events of that infamous day are examined in context, it must be stated that the “Stop the Steal” gathering was organized around an untruthful premise (i.e., that the presidential election of 2020 was somehow fraudulent). Yet, there is no evidence of such. Due to the lack of evidence, courts all across the country have dismissed frivolous lawsuits or, otherwise, declined to hear them.
In fact, U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and Louisiana’s own Bill Cassidy have admitted that Joe Biden lawfully won the 2020 presidential election. When he took the floor to certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, Majority Leader McConnell stated, “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.” In that same vein, Senator Graham, a staunch supporter of President Trump, noted, “It is over… [Biden] won. He’s the legitimate President to the United States… Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are lawfully elected and will become the President and the Vice President of the United States on January 20.” Similarly, Senator Cassidy has said, “The dozens and dozens of legal challenges from President Trump’s legal team have all been rejected, many by judges appointed by President Trump. Every one of them.” In a word, the allegations that the election was stolen are untrue.
Nevertheless, that untrue allegation has been perpetuated for months and it persists. The rhetoric surrounding it culminated in the riot at our Capital. As the rioters are being rounded up one-by-one, to a person, they now contend that they were invited to the Capitol by the President, and they were there doing what he wanted them to do. This is the defense that has been advanced by the so-called Qanon shaman, Jacob Chansley. Likewise, North Texas realtor, Jenna Ryan, has said the same. Words matter. And all speech is not protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution. In fact, the Supreme Court has held that protected speech does not extend to that which “is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action”.
As one trained to be both a journalist and a lawyer, it truly pains me to witness the lengths to which unscrupulous individuals will go in order to obfuscate basic truth. Notwithstanding the fact that many of us carry mobile devices that possess far more computing power than the mainframe computers that sent the first rockets to the moon, we struggle to unearth the objective truth. That said, it is worth noting that objective truth is to be distinguished from subjective truth. And facts are to be distinguished from opinions.
If we can get to the truth of the matter, we will be better positioned to address the remaining areas of inquiry. We can, then, channel our energies into educating our children for the jobs of the future, training and employing our workforce, providing fair and equal wages to hard-working Americans, addressing our country’s failing infrastructure, eradicating COVID-19, and otherwise providing healthcare to our citizens, among other things. And, in the end, just as Taylor’s 4-Way Test reversed his company’s fortunes by improving upon the decency, ethics and morality of the company’s employees, as citizens, we have the ability to effect the same impact upon our communities and our country as a whole.