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Getting the Truth Is Always Good News

October 30, 1994|SCOTT HARRIS

O.J. Simpson got me invited to USC the other day. It wasn't O.J., the man, but O.J., the Story of the Century. The occasion was a "business-in-society" seminar for high school seniors staged by a group called the Constitutional Rights Foundation. They wanted somebody to talk about "media hype." It was my job to do some more tsk-tsking over the obvious.

In this Super Bowl of media events, journalism has been flagged more than the Raiders. I reminded students of just a few of the fouls. For style, there's the infamous Time magazine cover that darkened Simpson's police mug. For substance, well, has anyone found that "ski mask" yet?

But students from the Antelope Valley to the South Bay didn't need specifics to rip the catchall that is "the media." A student named Julie told me she is so disgusted that she avoids all the news, all the time.

"Oh, that's so cynical," I chided.

"Growing up in L. A.," Julie responded, "made me cynical."


What do you say to that? The attitude is understandable. Many of L. A.'s jaded teen-agers can remember when this city showed its best face to the world. Ten years ago, they were children who witnessed the glorious celebration of 1984 Los Angeles Olympics with awe and wonder. That's true even if they only saw it through the TV, the magazines, the newspaper--"the media." But since then, they've seen L. A. at its worst, culminating in the 1992 riots. The calamities of fire and earthquakes probably didn't help anybody's attitude.

So if I had the chance to talk to Julie again, what would I say? Perhaps this: Lighten up. Things aren't as bad as they seem. If you can suspend your cynicism long enough to look at the front page, you'll find some good news, and there is even some evidence that the big, bad media are doing some good.

I'm writing this on a Friday for Sunday, so I have no idea what appears on today's front page. But in recent days, the big story from overseas is the Mideast peace accords, be they ever so fragile. Meanwhile, democracy has been restored to Haiti. The terrorists of Hamas and Gen. Cedras may disagree, but this strikes most people as good news.

Meanwhile, much closer to home, the Nov. 8 ballot has managed to overshadow O. J. No matter how you stand on the candidates or the initiatives, it's reassuring that the democratic process, warts and all, has succeeded, at least temporarily, in putting the O. J. saga in a more appropriate perspective. (It helps, of course, that jury selection isn't as exciting as the actual trial.)

"The media" helped do that. And let's not forget the good news about Mike Huffington--the revelation that this man hired an illegal immigrant to care for his children.

This is good news--whether you are Republican or Democrat, whether you love Huffington or loathe him. This is good news regardless of your opinions about immigration policy. This is good news if, like Huffington, you support Proposition 187 and therefore wish to deny public health care and education benefits to illegal immigrants and their children. And it's good news if you don't.

It's good news simply because it's the truth. It's not a half-truth, and it's not a matter of interpretation. It's a cold, hard fact. Or perhaps a warm, soft fact, since the Huffingtons--or at least Arianna and the children--are obviously very fond of this woman named Marisela, and she is apparently fond of them.

Even Mike Huffington himself should understand that it's good that the truth came out, and judging by his recent confession, he does.

"We have made a mistake, there is no question about it," he said. But, "who among us has not broken the law? Who among us has not gone past 55 miles an hour? . . . We are all human . . . and if we make a mistake . . . we should own up to it. Which I have done and Arianna has done."

Indeed. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. We are all human--even those illegal immigrants who care for our children. And yes, we should own up to our "mistakes."

Of course, it's better for politicians to own up to mistakes in a timely fashion, rather than to have them revealed by the Los Angeles Times. Huffington could have divulged this fact when he announced his support for Proposition 187, the anti-illegal immigration measure. Instead, he tried to hide it, right up to the very end. Sometimes, cover-ups work. But sometimes, as the saying goes, the truth will out. Surely the candidate is familiar with the words of Jesus: "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

Mike, it was good to get to know you, to finally fill in the empty suit in "Doonesbury." It seems like only yesterday that you introduced yourself to us in a television commercial touting "The Book of Virtues." You said it's a fine, important book, and you urged us all to read it. You knew that skeptics would find you a bit pious. But you also knew that a lot of us pray for more virtue in this world.

These truths are self-evident: Honesty is better than hypocrisy, and courage is better than craven opportunism.

Now, "courage," of course, is a slippery word in politics. Gov. Wilson's ads say he has "courage" for supporting Proposition 187, even though it leads in the polls and is supported by his party. The word seems more appropriate in describing other various Republican leaders. One of them is William F. Bennett, the former secretary of education. He's also the author of "The Book of Virtues."

So, Julie, if you're out there, I hope you don't read this story and simply think Mike Huffington is another reason to be discouraged. That he may be, but isn't it better to know that now?

The point is, if you don't keep up with the news, you'll miss the good stuff too.

Scott Harris' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

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