Back in the olden days, in the era of black-and-white movies and TV-less households, the weekend highlight for many Las Vegans was going to see a Western, or at least something with lots of action, but no romance.
We had three movie houses in Las Vegas: The SERF, which has been transformed into a dance-dining hall but still retains its marquee; the Kiva, closed for decades, on Bridge Street, whose favorite flicks were in Spanish; and the Coronado, at Sixth and University. The building stands but no movie has been shown in decades.
I have a somewhat fuzzy recollection of a black-and-white movie about a newspaper mogul, possibly William Randolph Hearst, whose favorite line seemed to be “I only believe what I read in the newspapers.”
The idea is that if it’s in print (or some other permanent format), it must be the truth. The actor uttered that statement several times, and his fawning newspaper staff usually joined the chorus. We could write dozens of columns on how newspapers seem to solidify public opinion. But then, we read all about fake news, or alt-news, which has made a recent entry into the public’s consciousness.
Let’s start, where I often do, in the third or fourth grade at Immaculate Conception School in the ‘40s, in the homeroom of Sister Mary Preguntas Mucho. This teacher liked to discuss current events, which included movies.
We enjoyed Monday mornings, but still we wondered when or how any Sister of Loretto attended or got to watch movies in a real theater.
Fortunately, with only three venues in that pre-TV era, it was likely that most of us students had been to the movies the previous Saturday and were ready to spread our erudition when school resumed.
What our teacher seemed to be convinced of was the belief that anything with permanence of form was, by definition, true. We’d watch newsreels in movie venues during the pre-Facebook era. We had no doubt that 15-minute segment was true.
My Dad would regularly send me to the Lobby News Stand for a 50-cent copy of the Los Angeles Times, whose Sunday edition weighed as much as a small horse and whose vender at the newsstand often returned a nickel to me “for being a regular customer.”
The point was that there were so few news outlets, that what most of us received was homogenized.
The local AM radio station had sparse news offerings, with most of the current events coming from someone like KFUN manager Ernie Thwaites reading the news and often interspersing personal comments.
Thwaites never failed to refer to Santa Fe as “the capital silly,” and the Santa Fe press often retorted by calling KFUN “a cow lot station.” That was an era of few sources for the news. And to this youngster, it seemed as if most sources agreed with one another.
No, there was no Fox news with announcers who salivated whenever a Trump-like figure threatened to cut 20 million people off Medicare rolls in order to give the rich yet another tax break.
I realize it’s a leap to toss in media like Facebook and the many faux news sources whose aim is to counteract whatever others reported.
Like it or not, the public needs to learn that there are probably just as many TV, newspaper, radio and Internet sources whose aim is to contradict what reliable news sources report.
With such a multiplicity of sources — reliable and otherwise — I still wonder whether or to what extent Russia intervened in last November’s presidential election.
I puzzle over interpretations and versions of news stories. As one employed for years by a half-dozen newspapers, I regret the blurring of actual news and facts with opinion pieces and personal interpretations. I’ve struggled with buying certain stations’ versions of the truth.
A few decades ago, David Brinkley, who used to deliver a daily hour-long TV news program with partner Chet Huntley, obviously didn’t buy all that he was instructed to read on the news.
So, researchers at an eastern university filmed Brinkley close up as he read the copy. It turns out that in cases in which the newscaster didn’t “buy” the contents of the story he read, he had a way of wincing. One researcher pointed out that the quite subtle facial expression appeared regularly in his newscasts.
Was Brinkley implying tacitly that he simply didn’t believe that part of the news?
We ought not buy the age-old nostrum that “if it’s in print (or some other permanent form), it has to be true.” How many times have you seen a movie or read a book or newspaper and concluded, “Well, if it’s in print, it has to be true. There it is, in black and white”?
In future columns, I hope to examine the influence of other media, such as Facebook, and the ease with which it distorts what computer owners observe. Notice the torrid exchanges of rumor disguised as fact in many of the posts on Facebook. And check out the bushels of unattributed factoids that are profuse in people’s exchanges.
“I saw it in black and white” has become a popular catchphrase for people who attempt to prove what often cannot be proved.