Facts are increasingly under attack, and that battle poses as great a threat as climate change, Fortune Media Group CEO Alan Murray declared in his Landon Lecture Friday.
In the 191st installment of the lecture series, Murray said while society is not yet in a post-truth or post-fact world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate fact from fiction.
“Unfortunately, today, that simple fundamental belief in the power, importance and even existence of facts is crumbling,” Murray said. “It’s somehow being called into question.”
Murray clarified that while his speech would not delve into politics, he found it troubling that President Donald Trump constantly lies, particularly when founding father George Washington is venerated as having never told a lie (which Murray recognized is just a myth).
A former journalist, Murray said his life has been dedicated to seeking facts. He started a neighborhood newspaper when he was 9, delivering about 30 mimeographed copies of his paper to houses down the street. He later worked for his hometown newspaper in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and he would work at the Wall Street Journal. He was also the chief content officer for Time, Inc.
But in an increasingly connected world, the rapid flow of information has done as much to divide society as it has to unite, Murray said. As a child, he and his family relied on local newspapers to receive their daily doses of information and news. That news was curated, and while journalists selected the day’s news, the slower pace of information allowed them time to verify it.
However, the rise of companies like Facebook in the past decade and a half has decimated local papers and become the main source of news for 50% of Americans, according to a study Murray was involved with at the Pew Research Center in 2013.
“Facebook itself continued to insist that they were not a media organization, and they took little or no responsibility for the quality of information they were giving people,” Murray said. “They had become the front page, and unlike the historic front page editor, they didn’t make any effort to make sure that what you were seeing on your personal front page was accurate or fair or met any of the standards I talked about.”
While federal regulators have recently tightened control on Facebook’s responsibility for false information, it will take broader education to wean citizens off of an addiction to free, convenient but potentially false information, he said.
He also assailed television news, particularly Fox News and MSNBC, for using language to influence, rather than inform. Truth has also come under attack abroad, with several notorious cases of the persecution of journalists.
“We have crossed through the looking glass, where falsehoods have become truth and truth has become false,” he said. “It feels a lot like ‘1984’ where war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.
“Facts are in crisis,” Murray continued. “I don’t believe that we’re living in a post-truth world, but I do believe that we’re living in a world where those seeking the truth and the facts are under attack to an extent and in ways they never have been before. Those seeking to undermine the truth have powerful new tools and platforms and weapons at their disposal than they ever have before.”
However, Murray said he is an optimist, and while the journalism industry has shrunk and struggled to find a new viable business model, the drive and dedication of journalists entering the industry gives him hope.
“My message to the school today is that truth does matter — facts do matter,” Murray said. “They can be found, even if it takes some work, and I do believe that they will prevail.”
The math should have been simple.
There were 10 construction workers in neon yellow shirts with MSE Hardscapes out of Kansas City, Missouri, and several 400-brick pallets to finish paving a little over 100 feet of the 32-foot wide section of Juliette Avenue beside Woodrow Wilson Elementary.
The block of work started earlier in the summer, but heavy rains pushed the project back, and the workers only started laying the bricks on Monday. Still, they’d made quick work of it, and by their calculations, the mostly Spanish-speaking workers figured they’d be done by Friday evening.
What they did not factor into their construction equation was the rambunctious energy of dozens of elementary school kids to help them finish the work.
The Woodrow Wilson students were out in force Thursday afternoon “helping” the workers finish the job. Classes rotated in throughout late in the school day to relay bricks to the workers, who did the actual bricklaying.
Two of the crew’s workers typically lay the bricks while the other workers rotate out and bring lines of bricks to the bricklayers. But with the students helping and the bricks quickly piling up, four workers laid bricks, and the students and workers went through 1,600 bricks — or four pallets and about 300 square feet of bricks — in about 10 minutes.
Ever since the project’s inception, principal Deb Nauerth said she’d joked about letting the kids help with the restoration of the historic street section, but as time went on, it became a more serious proposition. The construction company had never done anything like it, but both the company owner and city public works officials loved the idea.
Before letting them loose on the construction workers, though, Nauerth sat each class down to explain the project and its origins.
She used a bullhorn because the workers were still using heavy machinery to prepare the area for the kids. In the midst of clouds of wafting red-tinged brick dust and two-stroke engine smoke, she asked a class of third graders to pause and think about why the workers were dumping sand on the bricks.
Several small gloves shot up, and the students took their turns stabbing at the question. One answered that the sand made it so plants don’t grow. Another student guessed that the sand helped keep the bricks in place.
Nauerth thanked them for their answers, and then told them they were about to do some historic work. The road was first paved with bricks in 1913, and it is believed to have been reconstructed in the 1950s, but the Riley County Historical Society and city officials have not been able to find any record of it. The students would get to make their own history Thursday afternoon. They were even using the original bricks from 1913 to repave the road.
“One day you’ll get to say, ‘Way back in 2019, when I was in third grade, I helped build this road,’” Nauerth told the students.
Next, city civil engineer Karen Becker explained the city’s construction process, starting with the design phase, going through the bid phase and ending with construction.
“It’s kind of like music,” Becker said. “All these different sounds come together to make a song.”
Next, Nauerth gave the children instructions on how to help the workers. Most of them were Hispanic immigrants from places like Mexico and El Salvador, so the district brought a translator to help facilitate construction. But no translation was needed when Nauerth led the children in cheers of “hip hip hooray” before storming the pallets of bricks.
The third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade classes each placed about 1,600 bricks, totaling about 6,400 over the course of the afternoon. Younger grades only got to watch, but they cheered on their schoolmates from behind the construction fencing.
The students had Friday off, but the teachers were out dancing and laying bricks themselves in the morning. With the children and teachers’ help, the brickwork was on track to finish by the end of the day Friday, James Benson with MSE Hardscapes said.
The reconstructed street now has a curb cut along the east edge. Buses will now have a dedicated drop-off area, and that should help with congestion along Juliette Avenue on school mornings, Nauerth said.
“This is the heart of education,” Nauerth said. “This instills in our kids that helping others is a gift to themselves. When you can see a part of the street that you and your classmates helped build, that’s powerful.”
Q: Why has outflow from Tuttle Creek Lake slowed? And what’s going on with the construction projects there?
A: With record-setting rainfall near the Dakotas earlier this month finally making its way through the Missouri River, you can imagine that the space all its tributaries share is becoming pretty full.
That water is currently flowing past Waverly, Missouri, which is the low-lying area that helps U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials determine whether there is room in the channel to release more water from upstream lakes. Tuttle Creek is one of those lakes.
The National Weather Service observed the flow at Waverly to be 156,000 cfs as of Friday morning. Once that flow drops below 140,000 cubic feet per second, the Kansas River Basin reserviors will be able to release more water.
Officials want to drop the reserviors’ water levels down to their normal levels before the first winter freeze.
Lake officials said once that surge passes and space opens up once more, Tuttle Creek Lake should be able to increase its outflow again.
“If, during this time, the lake goes above elevation 1,114.4 feet, our release criteria at Waverly will increase from 140,000 to 180,000 cfs, and we should likewise be able to increase outflow,” officials wrote on Facebook. “Let’s hope we can keep the lake from going much higher (barring any significant rainfall in the Tuttle Creek basin).”
According to the current three-day forecast for releases, Tuttle Creek is expected to increase its outflow to 3,000 cfs starting Saturday.
“The front edge of that water is east of Kansas City and the back edge of that water is just upstream of Kansas City,” said Brian McNulty, the Corps’ operation project manager at Tuttle Creek. “With us starting up our releases, we’ll be timing the arrival of our water as the tail end of that passes Kansas City.”
According to the Corps’ Thursday’s reading, the outflow of the lake is 200 cubic feet per second, where it has remained for the past week. Lake elevation is at 1,113.43 feet, about 38.43 feet above its normal pool level, and its inflow is about 9,500 cfs.
In the meantime, McNulty said people should be aware of where they boat as the Corps does not technically own the property for some of the land that has been flooded; rather it has obtained flowage easements. McNulty said boating on those areas of private property would be considered trespassing. Most of those areas are above the Kansas Highway 16 bridge near Randolph, or the northern end of Riley and Pottawatomie counties and the southern end of Marshall County.
As for construction at the dam, the bulk of the work has halted since the summer as waters rose to peak levels, and Corps officials anticipated high releases from the tubes.
One of the projects, which rehabilitates the stilling basin, includes removing and replacing concrete, as well as excavating land outside the basin walls. It also includes installing additional anchoring to strengthen the basin wall system.
The project is at least half done, but until the lake gets down to a more stable level, the contractor will remain offsite. McNulty said officials hope to have workers back this fall.
“For part of their work, we also have to draw down the river pond area, draw down the stilling basin, and we have to shut off our releases from the lake,” McNulty said. “That’s one of the reasons they haven’t been back onsite. They’re establishing their schedule to coordinate with our releases and evacuation of the rest of our floodwater with their work.”
A little bit of work is still being done around the spillway gates to eventually replace the gate controls. McNulty said workers cannot actually work on the gate itself and electrical portion of the project until the lake drops at least another 10 feet, but they are able to work on lighting improvements for now.
None of the projects will affect the normal operation or integrity of the dam except when the river pond below Tuttle Creek Dam will be lowered for a period of time for the stilling basin project.
In June, Kansas Highway 13 over Tuttle Creek Dam reopened after 15 months of construction. The Corps completed a bridge deck replacement project over the dam’s spillway gates. The bridge connects Riley and Pottawatomie counties.
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