The fifth annual Ted Johnson Lecture kicked off Black History Month, honoring NAU’s first African American professor, Ted Johnson. NPR correspondent Michel Martin presented a lecture at Prochnow Auditorium Saturday night that touched on her personal life, experience as a reporter and the turbulent modern-day political climate.
Johnson joined NAU faculty in 1969 and worked at the university for 30 years, according to an official press release from the ethnic studies department. Johnson’s influence on campus was apparent through his work in civic and political affairs.
In her three decades as a professional journalist, Martin has worked for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and ABC News, among other news outlets. She currently hosts NPR’s “All Things Considered,” covering politics and news.
Ricardo Guthrie, director and associate professor of ethnic studies, welcomed Martin to the stage, extending gratitude. Guthrie said Martin was absent from her normally scheduled “All Things Considered” show in order to give the lecture. She spent 6 hours on-air Friday covering the impeachment trial.
Martin opened up the talk by thanking those who assisted in organizing the event and brought her to NAU, such as the ethnic studies faculty and students. She spoke about her experiences as a black woman and journalist in college and in the world.
“I didn’t really care if people thought I was smart. I didn’t really care if people thought I was whatever it was they thought I was supposed to be,” Martin said. “I think that is a part of what comes out of being a person that doesn’t always fit in, who doesn’t always look like everyone else.”
Describing her career as simultaneously fun and heartbreaking, Martin noted her entire adult life has revolved around journalism. She shared her definition of truth, something she described as elusive, existential and profound.
Martin spoke about the nuances of truth and distinguished facts from the truth, affirming it does exist despite popular opinion.
“Facts are important because they are foundational to truth, but they are not the whole truth,” Martin said. “I’m here to warrant that there is such a thing as truth, that it exists, that it can be elusive, but the fact that it is elusive does not mean we can’t search for it. And it certainly doesn’t mean that it does not matter.”
The lecture focused on the concept of truth. Martin pulled from current events and politics to display a prevalent imbalance within the media and in society. From "Russian trolling" during the 2016 election to coronavirus, the lecture encompassed numerous relevant issues.
Martin said the audience should be critical of media, to look beyond the surface and to get to the truth. Additionally, she addressed fake news, affirming it cannot be news if it is fake — and if it’s fake, “it’s just lies.”
"I would argue that it is as difficult as it ever was to get at truth," Martin said. "You are surrounded by garbage masquerading as fact."
A Q&A portion of the lecture was held following Martin’s speech. However, Martin opened the floor to open dialogue with the audience, rather than the standard binary format.
Taking off her shoes as the discussion began, Martin opened a dialogue by simply asking the audience how things are going — in the world and in life. Numerous topics and questions came from the audience, including the impeachment trial and media bias.