How do you find the truth when someone’s lying?

 

When I covered the police beat, we wrote on old typewriters. Photo Source: Sitepoint.
When I covered the police beat, we wrote on old typewriters. Photo Source: Sitepoint.

I WAS in a quandary, but I wasn’t concerned. My job was to find the truth when somebody was lying, and sometimes there was little truth to be found.

Besides, I lived in a quandary, which was the permanent residence of any newspaper reporter back when chasing sirens was an art form, and we chased them all.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram had me exiled to an office in the police station, surrounded by scanners from the police, sheriff, and fire departments, as well as the medical examiner’s domain.

If there was anything festering in Fort Worth, I knew about it.

Mostly what I heard was a lot of noise.

Mostly it was static.

The sound droned on.

I tuned it out.

But when one of three signals suddenly blared out, the voice was as clear as a bell, and I was on the move.

Signal 37: A shooting.

Signal 12: Someone was dead.

Signal 2: An automobile fatality.

I didn’t write obituaries.

But I wrote about the unfortunate in unfortunate circumstances.

I wrote about the dead.

The dying.

The tragedies taking place on the main and back streets of Fort Worth.

So here was my quandary.

It had been a quiet afternoon.

I had written my final article for the day.

I had met my final deadline.

There was nothing to do now but kill time.

And I was good at it.

I was half asleep when the scanner barked, “Signal 37.”

I was halfway out the door when I heard, “Signal 12.”

I had an address.

I was on the run.

A thirty-seven year old man had spent the afternoon in a bar.

Loud music.

Loud talking.

A dirty joke or two.

A curse word or two.

A threat or two.

And now he lay shot dead in the middle of an intersection on a rougher side of town.

He breathed his last shortly after the second bullet hit him.

That’s what an eyewitness said.

And all I would be able to write were the quotes eyewitnesses told me.

I lined them up.

They had seen it all.

Yes, sir.

They were eager to talk.

One eyewitness said there was one shooter.

On thought he had heard two different guns firing.

One said the shooter ran away down the alley.

One said the shooter drove away in an old Pontiac.

One said the shooter was picked up by a woman in a Chevrolet Camaro.

“What color?” I asked.

“The car?”

I nodded.

“Don’t know the color of the car,” he said,” but the woman was redheaded.”

I talked to one witness, then another.

They all saw the shooting, they said.

They all saw a man die, they said.

None could agree on the details.

There was crying.

And cursing.

And men slamming their fence against the wall.

But all had seen the shooting through a different pair of eyes.

I hurried back to cop shop to knock out a story for the final street edition.

The story needed to be correct.

It needed to be precise.

It needed to be accurate.

I wrote eight column inches of copy.

The story contained only one nugget of truth.

A man was dead.

That’s all.

Everything else was opinion and perspective.

One eyewitness had probably gotten it right?

But which one?

And was any of them lying?

And did any of them have a reason to lie?

Probably.

Three told me there was one shooter.

One swore there were two shooters.

I let the eyewitnesses vote.

I wrote there was one shooter.

Only one had seen the redheaded woman.

Don’t know if she was there.

Don’t know if she wasn’t.

But how good a story could you write without at least one redheaded woman at the scene of the crime?

 

 

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  • Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. And when people are in shock, they are in no position to make and store good memories.

    Or trials would last fifteen minutes.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      And as a result, Alicia, all nonfiction is fiction.

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