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Edward Phillips

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A Nose for the Truth
By Edward Phillips
Monday, September 10, 2012

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Journalists need to ask politicians a lot more about their beliefs and their actions.

A Nose for the Truth

 My favorite television program first appeared in the 1970s. It was called  “Columbo,” and it featured Peter Falk as a squinty-eyed, bushy-haired police lieutenant who drove a battered old Peugot and wore a rumpled trench coat. By appearances Columbo was neither sophisticated nor elegant. He reveled in pretending to be a hick who knew almost nothing about almost everything. He loved to praise his suspects for their good taste in expensive things. Then he would ask them how much the items cost to show them that he was not in their league.  In fact, he was the epitome of sophistication and the shrewdest cop of them all. When he arrived on the crime scene, he asked the easiest questions to soften up his suspects. But you knew one of them was in trouble when he thanked him for his cooperation, turned to leave, and then suddenly turned back and said “Excuse me, sir. But there’s just one more thing that’s bothering me. It will only take a minute to clear up, and then I will leave you alone.” You knew at that moment, the investigation was on, and one suspect was in deep trouble. The balance of the show was a clinic in how to handle thieves, murderers, and anyone else who thought he/she could outsmart this master sleuth with a nose for finding the truth. Columbo was simply brilliant.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to revive the Columbo format, but this time it might feature a journalist who interrogates… less-than-truthful politicians. Our new Columbo would be a dogged little pain in the butt who would not accept less than the truth. (As an aside, isn’t that the real purpose of journalism anyway?). And what better “suspects” to target in that endeavor than those who do their best to avoid the truth? Think of the possibilities! Our new Columbo would ask his selected politician the standard set of questions for which the politician had his or her standard set of answers. You know, just the way it takes place today almost everywhere.  But suddenly, our journalist would take those politicians to task who were disingenuous. He would ask the politician how he would follow his own convictions in a circumstance when it was not possible, or ask about the origin of his conviction, or its meaning to others. His objective would be to lead his respondent down a pathway of his own choosing but to a fork in the road that he had not anticipated. Would he prove himself to be a liar, a fool, both, or neither?
Here is a case in point: Last week a lady journalist paused, and asked a politician “one more small thing” that was bothering her. It was a simple follow-up question that would have made Peter Falk and Columbo proud.   She had listened to state Rep. Jim Buchy from Ohio make his case for why abortion should be outlawed in America. The lawmaker was quite adamant. He was against abortion. He had made that point clear. But the journalist asked the next logical question: “Sir, what do you think makes a woman want to have an abortion?” 
The representative was off his game. He could not answer. He stammered and stuttered and finally had to admit he did not know. Buchy voted for restricting abortion in Ohio, and even voted to prevent insurance companies from covering abortions. In a bit of irony, he did not support a law that just went into effect in Ohio that bans drivers from texting. “It’s just another government (rule) looking over our shoulder, trying to be responsible for us, when we should be responsible for our own actions,” Buchy gave as his reason for not sponsoring the legislation.
So there you have it: A lawmaker who believes that government has a legitimate role in preventing  abortions that kill fetuses is appropriate, but that same government is just a nuisance when trying to prevent citizens of all ages from being killed by those who text and drive.
There is another twist to this story. The lady journalist who asked Rep. Buchy the question he should have known the answer to was an Al-Jazeera reporter. Women elsewhere, it seems, take this issue very seriously.
Let us now expand outward to the grand issue before us. Let’s assume Rep. Buchy had replied to the Al-jazeerist reporter: “I don’t know why women want an abortion. But I believe abortions are immoral under all circumstances because they take human life, they violate God’s will, and they are preventable.” 
Fair enough. But that answer gives rise to other questions:  “Rep. Buchy, do you know that abortion-on-demand is legal in at least 28 other countries; therefore, your position would discriminate against those women who cannot afford to leave the country and have an abortion performed elsewhere?”
Other follow-up questions: “Hunger takes more human lives than do abortions, it also violates God’s will, and it is preventable. What actions are you taking to prevent hunger in America?”  Also, here are a few more preventable issues that kill more than do abortions, and all are very likely against God’s will:
Slavery, prostitution, air pollution, HIV/AIDS, suicides, measles, violence, breast cancer, falls, drownings, fires, tetanus, sexually transmitted diseases, drugs, alcohol, car accidents, hypertension, and smoking.
What specific legislation have you proposed, or do you plan to propose, to prevent any of these causes of death from occurring?” 
A mindset has overtaken our legislatures in recent years led by those who would selectively enforce a set of irrational principles or narrow moral values against all citizens. The abortion issue is but one such issue. Journalists with backbone can take the lead shown by the Al-jazeerist lady reporter and ask deeper questions, point out inconsistencies in the shallow answers lawmakers give us, and put them on the spot to defend their positions. The light of day exposes many evils. Turning on the switch is our job. Columbo is gone, but his nose for the truth is a skill that many more need to learn.









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Reviewed by Robert Johnson 9/10/2012
Excellent essay! Ed Phillips takes an issue and uses clear, logical thinking to make a point. If only this type of discourse were prevalent in our political discourse.

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