Catching up on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, I heard about a new book: One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon by Tim Weiner. This book is Weiner’s investigative analysis of all declassified documents concerning Richard Nixon’s actions, including illegal wiretapping and espionage, while president. Weiner describes the consequences of Nixon’s choices, such as deliberately falsifying military targets and using alcohol as sleep medication during Yom Kippur War of 1973, as directly causing the current nationwide mistrust of career politicians.
I don’t know much about the political history of the US’s mid-20th century, and I haven’t directly sought out resources to educate myself. Perhaps if I’d lived during Nixon’s impeachment proceedings or my history classes included US presidencies after World War II, I wouldn’t be so shocked at Weiner’s revelations. But the sensational quality of the analysis reminds me to be skeptical: I don’t know what Nixon actually did. I have not seen these declassified documents. I don’t know the perspective through which Weiner arrives at his conclusions. All of my political science professors stressed that journalism is essentially the art of synthesizing research into summaries suitable for public consumption. Creating such summaries, or news bites, creates distance between the media consumer and the actual experience of the people creating the news. So even though I listened to Terry Gross’s interview, I still don’t know what Nixon did – I only hear Weiner’s story of the truth.
Stories are important. I believe stories share experiences that shape others’ decisions. I believe in striving to understand the experiences behind other people, places, and nations. I also believe we as a public often blindly entrust our understanding of a larger world. We need reminders to seek more than one version of any story.