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Honesty is the best policy, supposedly

Published October 09. 2010 09:00AM

Someone once asked: "When it comes to doing newspaper work, what is the most difficult thing to write?"

The answer is easy, I said. "Quite often, the most difficult thing to write is the truth."

He gave me an odd look, as if to suggest that the truth should be the easiest thing to write.

I explained that writing the truth can be the most difficult for many reasons.

One reason is that the truth isn't necessarily clear; we don't always know what the truth is. The second reason is that people often don't want to know the truth.

Adding to that puzzle is the reality that the truth means different things to different people.

What is absolute truth to one, might be deemed false by another. Even the thinnest pancake has two sides.

How about the traffic accident at the intersection, when both drivers swear on a stack of Bibles they had the green light?

There's an old saying that honesty is the best policy. But I'm not so sure. Sometimes I think discretion is the best policy.

For example, you better think twice before you give an honest response to the question: "Does this dress make me look fat?"

Here's another example. I recently attended a public meeting at a small municipality where an out-of-town corporation presented a proposal to beautify the environment.

The presenters spoke in terms of creating lush greenery, and at no cost to the taxpayers; all things good and wholesome. On the surface, it sounded wonderful, a no-brainer.

What they didn't mention is that their proposal was rooted in a highly controversial waste product that's been known to cause illness and death.

So was this really a proposal about beautification? Or was it a proposal for toxic dumping? Or maybe a combination of both? And at what risk to people's health?

The best a reporter can do is present both sides of the issue and continue to ask questions.

The bottom line is that the truth is not simply black or white. It can be a gray, murky area.

But it also can be entertaining. The 2011 Old Farmer's Almanac lists some truthful, unbelievable things said by applicants during job interviews.

One applicant said to a potential employer: "When you do background checks on job candidates, do things like public drunkenness come up?"

Another applicant said: "I was fired from my last job because they were forcing me to attend anger management classes."

How about the applicant who asked: "What is your company's policy on Monday absences?"

And then there's this comment: "What do you mean by two weeks' notice? I've never quit a job before I've always been fired."

Maybe the award for honesty belongs to an elderly Indiana woman who, according to the Almanac, was interviewed upon getting married for the fourth time.

Her first husband had been a banker, her second, a circus performer; her third, an attorney. Her new husband-to-be was a funeral director.

The reporter asked why she had chosen such a diverse group of men.

She answered: I chose number one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go."

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