By G. Michael Dobbs
Perhaps the thorniest aspect of journalism is determining what is the "truth."
"Truth," like "beauty" is definitely in the eye of the beholder.
That is what interested me so much about the "60 Minutes" story broadcast on Sunday on the efforts made by a state police unit in Springfield's North End neighborhood to curb gang activities and drug sales.
Last fall, reporter Lesley Stahl and her CBS news crew came to town, interviewed the troopers involved and one Springfield deputy chief about the effort, which is patterned after an approach used in Iraq to build a relationship between the police and residents.
Here is one reaction to the "truth" of this story. Kurt Nimmo, writing on Alex Jones' website www.Inforwars.com, said, "In the brazen propaganda piece below, CBS' '60 Minutes' lavishes praise on the latest gimmick in the militarization of police. Leslie Stahl travels to Springfield, Mass., to cover 'counterinsurgency cops,' state police who have adopted COIN (an acronym for counterinsurgency) operations cloned from Iraq and Afghanistan to address drugs and gangs. Appropriately, the segment is subtitled 'Military tactics fight street crime.'"
Nimmo continued, "The '60 Minutes' piece dwells on the stability and support component of the so-called counterinsurgency program in Massachusetts, but says little about offensive and defensive operations. We see friendly police officers interacting with the community and a SWAT police raid on a suspected drug house, but are not told about the darker and more ominous side of the operation that is invariably present when police act like soldiers in a militarily occupied country.
"The drug and gang problem in Springfield does not require a quasi-military response and 'counterinsurgency' techniques devised by the CIA. The idea that government is responsible for curing social problems was alien to the founders and they are not addressed in the Constitution," Nimmo wrote.
So there is one take to the "truth" in the CBS story. Is this approach actually an example of a military state? Do we have to fear that our rights are further being eroded? Can what the state troopers and Springfield police do really be defined as "quasi-military?"
Shot last fall, the "60 Minutes" story doesn't mention the role of Springfield police officers in the program. It doesn't mention that Springfield officers are now carrying out a similar program in other neighborhoods of the city.
Stahl gives viewers no context about the city. She refers to the city as "little" and makes its sound as the most dangerous city in New England.
Is this the "truth?"
I don't think so. Perhaps the cowardly trolls on Masslive will chime in on how terrible Springfield is, but I bet most of them don't live in the city.
Is truth like pornography – it can't be defined but you know it when you see it? Is what we call "truth" actually just something that makes us comfortable with our own preconceptions? If you're on Facebook you might know what I mean. People post political "memes" all the time without researching any of them.
I once reached a particularly odious one and posted my results. The person who originally shared the meme rejected the proof I offered. It didn't fit her "truth."
Hey, want to get really confused about "truth?" Sure you do. Try and reconcile how a bunch of "liberal" residents of Massachusetts willingly went along with de facto martial law in the effort to catch the Boston marathon bombers.
Now carry this a bit further. Spend an hour on the web looking at sites and postings about the bombing and the unanswered questions the investigation so far hasn't addressed.
Your head might hurt at the end of the hour because you will either be angry you read through conspiracy theories, which you automatically reject, or you may be stunned by what you will see.
The truly demanding obligation of being part of this nation's political system is making yourself aware of what is taking place around you and forming opinions that are based on your own research. The simple repetition of conventional wisdoms from any side doesn't cut it.
Calling all news junkies! See your favorite reporters and elected officials go head to head at the annual Valley Press Club Roast on May 16. The graphic above serves as a preview of coming attractions.
Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at email@example.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.