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Editorial: To maintain the truth

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By The Editors

In a span of three days, Feb. 10-12, the media world was rocked by three events. Each should shock the public sector in the same fashion.

At 9:16 p.m. on Feb. 12, The New York Times reported that its famed journalist and media columnist David Carr had died after collapsing in The Times newsroom due to complications from lung cancer – a tragedy at 58 years old.

A day prior, CBS News veteran correspondent Bob Simon died in a New York City car accident. He was 73.

While by no means as paralyzing as the deaths of a writer the likes of Carr or a broadcast journalist such as Simon, the news on Feb. 10 that Jon Stewart was stepping down as host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” came as a shock of a different nature. And then there’s Brian Williams.

In one of his final “Media Equation” columns for The Times, Carr wrote, “Even young people who wouldn’t be caught dead watching the evening news know who Mr. Williams is. Which is good until it isn’t.”

On Feb. 4, the famed anchor for the NBC Nightly News admitted to misleading the public about being on board a helicopter in Iraq that was shot down in 2003. The significance of the truth is what journalists seek every day. Carr, Simon and Stewart represent this one irrefutable trait.

Other attributes might include moxie, doggedness, accuracy and humor. But the pursuit of truth carried each into lions’ dens and back out to their respective beats.

Carr started out in 1993 as editor of the Twin Cities Reader, an alt-weekly published in Minneapolis, Minn., before taking over the Washington City Paper two years later. He eventually moved to The Times, where he reported on culture and the media, and starred in the 2011 documentary about the newspaper called “Page One, Inside The New York Times.”

Simon worked for CBS News as a correspondent for more than four decades, reporting on events including the 1989 student protests in China’s Tiananmen Square and the Persian Gulf War where he was captured and imprisoned in Iraq for 40 days. He won 27 Emmy Awards for journalism during his tenure.

Stewart took the television media world by storm in 1999, reporting on the news using a different medium: satire. Throughout his career, Stewart taught us that humor is a way – and a powerful one – to inform the public and convey the truth. Stewart announced on Feb. 10 that he was leaving “The Daily Show.”

The media world lost two of its native sons. The third will no doubt continue to inform the public, though the platform is uncertain. As journalists we can gain from these industry giants a renewed appreciation for the First Amendment and damned good writing. As citizens, we can relearn the power of courage, of humor, and of truth.

David Carr had 469,000 followers on Twitter. In the days before he died, he tweeted about Simon, Stewart and Williams. A tenacious seeker of the truth and an expert in the field of media, Carr also penned a book called “Night of the Gun” about his life as a former crack cocaine addict.

In the 2008 memoir, Carr wrote, “I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve, but we all walk this earth feeling we are frauds. The trick is to be grateful and hope the caper doesn’t end soon.”

Mr. Carr and Mr. Simon, your capers ended far too soon.

Watch and read the transcript from David Carr’s 2014 commencement speech at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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