Tuesday, September 29, 2009

An unlikely source for an argument for dispassionate, fact-based reporting

Today I was amazed when reading Primo Levi's "The Reawakening" to find perhaps the most powerful argument for dispassionate, fact-based reporting that I've ever read. The Reawakening is the sequel to Levi's book, "Survival in Auschwitz." It tells the amazing story of his liberation from Auschwitz in January 1945 by the Red Army and his unbelievable journey home to Italy.

In an afterword to the book, Levi responds to common questions from readers.

The first question is: "In these books there are no expressions of hate for the Germans, no desire for revenge. Have you forgiven them?

In a long response, Levi says:

"I believe in reason and discussion as supreme instruments of progress, and therefore I repress hatred even within myself: I prefer justice. Precisely for this reason, when describing the tragic world of Auschwitz, I have deliberately assumed the calm, sober language of the witness, neither the lamenting tones of the victim nor the irate voice of someone who seeks revenge. I thought that my account would be all the more credible and useful the more it appeared objective and the less it sounded overly emotional; only in this way does a witness in matters of justice perform his task, which is that of preparing the ground for the judge. The judges are my readers."

I don't know if there's a better description of what journalists should do and their relation to readers than that short passage. Witness. Calm. Sober. Credible. Objective. Those are words that stand out to me.

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