Modern advertisements seldom move me. Even ads that are lauded for their meaning seem to reveal latent capitalistic motives or flowery platitudes when stripped down to their bare elements. But last week, during the Oscars, The New York Times aired an advertisement that made me think.
In this deceptively-minimalist advertisement, their first in over a decade, The Times explores a singular idea: truth.
Beginning with words, “The truth is…”, the three words are completed by a multitude of statements, drawing from all points on the political spectrum. In quick succession, statements range from, “The truth is a woman should dress like a woman,” to “The truth is women’s rights are human rights.” In its thirty second duration, the ad nails down more than a fair share of American controversies – along with women’s rights, the ad encompasses border politics, the refugee crisis, the Black Lives Matter movement, healthcare, gun control, and climate change.
At around the halfway point, the ad takes a turn. The flashing statements, previously shown in comprehensible time intervals, begin to materialize and vanish in rapid succession. Soon, each statement bleeds into next– completely indistinguishable from those that came before and followed. Nearing the tail end of the ad’s 30 second duration, the statements, and the ideas therein, have devolved into indecipherable blurriness. As the ad comes to a close, a final statement appears on the screen: “The truth is more important now than ever.”
The ad invoked a visceral feeling in me; as the statements blur together in the final moments, I was impressed by not only the murkiness of the sentences themselves, but the murkiness of contemporary American media. But as the advertisement concludes, we are left with one certainty: how crucial the truth is. In this way, the ad conveyed a simple message: with the messy political climate of today, our role as journalists is to sort through this murkiness and pursue “truth.”
Despite this nuanced message, the advertisement was met with some backlash – most notably from our president. On his notorious twitter page, Trump writes, “For first time the failing @nytimes will take an ad (a bad one) to help save its failing reputation. Try reporting accurately & fairly!” And this statement, of course, is one of many in which Trump has derided media outlets. A few months back, Trump tweeted that “the FAKE NEWS media,” expressly The New York Times, CNN, and NBC, is “not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People! SICK!” Though statements like these might declare otherwise, Trump has painted a grim portrait of some of America’s most trustworthy news outlets.
As our president’s Twitter suggests, the goal of Truth is by no means a simple one to achieve. But I am not writing this article out of hopelessness; on the contrary, I think that The New York Times ad underscores the pursuit of Truth as a principle that can unite us, regardless of political standpoint or party affiliation. But more important, I think, is how this pursuit of truth works on the small scale, too.
For me and the Times both, we pursue truth through journalism; but lest we forget the multitude of other outlets. We pursue truth in the classes we take. We pursue truth through the books we love, and the books we hate. We pursue truth in laboratories and in studios. We pursue truth in the music we listen to and the music we make. We pursue truth through art. We pursue truth in our conversations.
So, through whichever medium suits you, keep pursuing. It is more important now than ever.