The dangers of “true facts”

This is Webb, Jack Webb.

He wasn’t a detective, but he played one on TV.

Jack Webb as
Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday on “Dragnet”

He was a good detective, too – a darn good one. He would have been a damn good detective, but when his show, “Dragnet,” was on the air in the 1950s and then again in the 1960s, words like “damn” were frowned upon.

So he had to settle for being a darn good one.

As Sgt. Joe Friday, he worked in Los Angeles. He didn’t take any guff. He just wanted the facts. In fact, if people started blabbering, he got them back on track by intoning, “Just the facts” or the “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Notice that Joe Friday didn’t ask for the “true facts.” He asked for “just the facts.”

Writers have mindlessly tacked on true to facts for years, but the need to eliminate the redundancy has never been greater.

If we give in to the idea of “true facts” or “real facts” and other “facts,” we have no facts at all. Without facts, we have no ability to work through the problems of politics, the economy, society, education, journalism, business, family or even the playground.

Without facts, without something real and true and provable, we can’t go anywhere.

Unfortunately, we seem stuck in that mire, as Leonard Pitts Jr. pointed out a while back.

Interestingly, American Heritage says that fact can sometimes mean “allegation of fact,” as when we say that someone “got the facts wrong.” It gives that justification for allowing the phrases true facts and real facts.

I see the point, but I disagree. If you get the facts wrong, you don’t really have facts. You have errors.

As Joe Friday, Jack Webb didn’t ask for the “true facts” anymore than he asked whether someone was giving him “false facts.”

Just the facts.

Even when the case involved a comedian called Carson and a clapper-copping kleptomaniac from Cleveland.

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