Truth Telling

Murrey Marder was a depression era child who needed to start working at the age of 8 to help support his family. There was no money for college so when Marder was honored later in life with a fellowship to Harvard, it became a fitting recognition for someone who achieved so much in life.

After four years as a copy boy, Marder was promoted to a reporter at the Philadelphia Evening Ledger. Shortly after his promotion, Marder joined the Marines in anticipation of the fact that he would be drafted. He became a war correspondent while seeing combat in the Pacific. Being involved in combat left Marder with a consciousness of the impact of war on human lives.

After the war, Marder was hired by the Washington Post. He became known for his courage in telling the Alger Hiss  story. Then he was assigned to cover Joseph McCarthy  and his claims of communist influence in the State Department and the U.S. Army.

Marder examined everything that McCarthy said and revealed the lies that McCarthy was telling. He did so at great personal peril. McCarthy was very vengeful and would likely end Marder’s career if not stopped. It was Marder’s persistence in doubting McCarthy that led to the first congressional hearing to be televised. At that hearing, McCarthy was exposed when the Army counsel said: “Have you no decency sir?” Within months of the hearing, the U.S. Senate voted to condemn McCarthy.

Later in his career, Marder was highly influential in arguing that the Washington Post should publish the Pentagon Papers. He reflected on how early reporting of events can often be very misleading but frame the narrative for future stories. Decades later, Marder came to believe journalists made the same mistakes in the framing of the invasion of Iraq.

Marder was an icon for journalistic truth telling. He gave his entire life savings to form the Nieman Watchdog Project at Harvard University. Marder’s contribution is designed to reinforce the role of the press in exposing the truth.

One wonders what Marder would think about our society today when those who promote lies and conspiracies can often rise to positions of prominence? What would he think about how lies, misinformation, and conspiracies are a source of fundraising? How might he think about the public’s uncaring attitude about leaders who have seemingly no regard for the truth?

Just imagine what it will take for the truth to be valued again as to how we judge our leaders? Just imagine how truth can be valued when it is in competition to much better funding sources of misinformation? Just imagine where we will find our future truth tellers when Schools of Journalism are being replaced with sexier social media programs?

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For without an informed and free press there cannot be an enlightened people.”
– Potter Stewart (Supreme Court Justice  writing for the majority in a lawsuit brought against the Washington Post for its publishing of the Pentagon Papers)

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