Irresponsible media have the capacity to do terrible damage

The year 1943 was a good year for my family despite World War II. My father was a production troubleshooter for Curtis-Wright, McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft’s predecessor. He and my mother rented a house where my brother and I lived comfortably with them. One night in September, when his shift ended, he told his supervisor he had to hurry home. Before he left, he reported that a bolt was not installed in a plane. He did not sign a completion slip.

In June 1967, just weeks after I graduated from college, we buried my father, who had died of pneumonia. Little did we anticipate what we would learn later that day. His brother, our uncle, accidentally revealed a terrible trial in our father’s and mother’s lives—a trial never mentioned ever in our presence as children or adults.

The FBI arrested our dear father in September 1943 and charged him with violating the sabotage act. Because he could not pay the $5,000 bail, he was retained in jail. It emerged that another worker signed my father’s name on the completion slip. The plane in question would have crash-landed due to the missing bolt. His picture was plastered on the front pages of St. Louis’ newspapers with the headline of being accused of sabotage. It appeared in other national newspapers.

Eventually, with the facts clarified, my father was exonerated of all charges. The exoneration, of course, did not appear on any front page but was buried far back in the newspapers in small blurbs. Curtis-Wright offered him his job again. We were told, however, that he chose to re-enlist in the army to prove his patriotism. This as a 33-year-old man with a wife and two very small children.

Image: A master mechanic working on a Flying Fortress (1942). Office of War Information.

We were shocked to learn about this event and the terrible consequences for our parents and our family. We asked our mother why they never shared this experience with us, and she replied they were so ashamed. The house they rented was painted with a swastika by a neighbor, and our mother felt she had to move us out of it.

I responded that had we learned earlier, we would’ve learned not to believe everything we read in a newspaper. When the war ended, and our father returned home, jobs were scarce due to so many men returning, and our father suffered joblessness. This, of course, affected us as a family for years, as the work he found involved many periods of layoffs.

Curious, I went to the library to search through the newspapers’ archives to find the news stories about my father. It took hours, but I found the front-page accusations and the buried exonerations. Some of what was written did not align with what our mother told us. Some of the facts were either skewed or omitted.

This brings me to today and the low trust Americans have in both newspaper and television media reporting taking place. Most outlets are sensationalistic and biased. They are willing to print or televise narratives as opposed to facts, and sensationalism as opposed to objectivity and even truth. People’s lives are affected by hyper-sensationalism where the media promote political or social agendas to the detriment of genuine facts and people’s reputations. So many lives are negatively affected, as happened to my parents and to my family’s financial well-being.

In 1943, a war sensationalized the narrative surrounding my father’s arrest. Today, political bias and a false or prominent social justice agenda frequently affect publicized narratives. We see this often with “hate crimes,” such as the Matthew Shepard case. His death is still considered an anti-gay crime, although careful investigation revealed that it was, instead, a drug deal gone wrong. Media outlets also routinely accuse Republican Supreme Court candidates of lying, while giving Democrat Supreme Court candidates a pass, when both state that they cannot answer a question because they cannot speculate about a potential future ruling.

Sadly, this is where we are today, unable to believe what we read or hear. The news media bears the burden of proving its credibility by resisting sensationalism and bias and showing a willingness to give the same space to any exonerations that it previously gave to the original, erroneous report. That high standard of honesty and objectivity is little to ask from an institution that has so much power.

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