Dennis Lyons

Anyone who grew up watching TV in the 1950s and 1960s likely remembers Jack Webb playing the character Sgt. Joe Friday on the police drama “Dragnet.”

 

“Dragnet” made several contributions to the popular culture of the time, including the deep-throated intro line: “The story you are about to hear is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent” and Sgt. Friday’s famous phrase, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

 

“Just the Facts, ma’am” became so associated with the Sgt. Joe Friday character, that it eventually became the title of his biography.

 

It turns out, though, Webb, as Friday, never actually used that exact phrase.

 

Doing a little fact-checking last week, I learned that the Friday character actually said “All we want are the facts, ma’am” and “All we know are the facts, ma’am.”

Our culture has all sorts of similar examples of literary, film and TV characters who never said the words they are supposed to have said.

In my favorite movie, “Casablanca,” nobody said “Play it again, Sam.” Nobody on Star Trek said “Beam me up, Scotty,” either.

While inaccuracies like these are harmless enough, other kinds of misinformation are not.

We live in a time when it has become increasingly difficult to sift through stuff and nonsense to find the golden nuggets of actual fact.

We also live in a time when many people seem willing to trust only the content that fits their beliefs without any burden of verification.

Both are significant concerns.

There have always been publications that leaned one way or another. The internet has increased them exponentially.

Still, most serious publications are committed to fairness and accuracy. More than 100 years ago, according to Time Magazine, Ralph Pulitzer, son of Joseph Pulitzer, along with Isaac White, started the “Bureau of Accuracy and Fair Play” at the New York World Fair in 1913. Time reported the bureau was created “to correct carelessness and to stamp out fakes and fakers.” 

The pre-internet newspaper world in which I grew up had librarians and myriad reference books to assist reporters and editors in getting things right. I remember working to establish a relationship with public librarians in several communities where I worked, just in case I needed to get something checked on deadline. 

As newsroom resources have diminished and technology has grown, fact-checking has become quite different and largely internet-based.

Checking the facts is no longer just a case of looking something up in a trusted reference prior to publication. It has become increasingly necessary to also check the validity of what’s already been published, thanks especially to the alarming number of social media streams and websites that seem to exist primarily to support one partisan belief or another.

As we move forward into this new year, they present as large a problem as any we face as a nation.

We can’t and won’t be part of that.

The Daily Item is a community newspaper that focuses on facts that matter to the people who live here. While we do, of course, publish national and world news from The Associated Press, our emphasis is on Valley news.

Outside of the diverse perspectives from readers, columnists and members of our editorial board on our Opinion page, our resolution to you this and every year is to report “just the facts” every day.

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