KEVIN LEININGER: Is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious just another word for ‘racist’? Time will tell
I’ll admit it: My knee-jerk reaction to the recent foibles by Virginia’s governor was to write a column about the long and usually ignored link between racism and abortion. Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s embrace of eugenics is but one example.
On second thought, however, it occurred to me that Ralph Northam perhaps should get the benefit of the doubt when he claimed somebody else was wearing that Klan hood in the medical school yearbook photo for which he had apologized a few days earlier. And, besides, just because he said a baby who survived a late-term abortion could be resuscitated until the mother and doctor decided what to do about it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s OK with infanticide.
In today’s media world, however, it’s the first thought that too often prevails. When white Catholic High School students got into a confrontation with a Native American activist at the recent Right to Life March in Washington, D.C., they were immediately painted as the aggressors. It was so much easier to make assumptions based on the “Make America Great Hats” some of the Kentucky students wore than to wait for the full video that painted an entirely different picture. And when that journalistic powerhouse Buzzfeed reported recently that Donald Trump had instructed lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, it fit the “Russian collusion narrative too perfectly to ignore — never mind that the story was debunked by no less than Special Counsel Robert Mueller himself.
Former Washington Post Publisher Philip Graham is credited with calling journalism “the first rough draft of history,” and the description used to fit. As a newspaper reporter, there was a time not all that long ago when the news cycle consisted of an entire day. That meant I had up to 24 hours to track down the facts, interview sources, review documents and write the story, and if I wasn’t finished by deadline the clock started all over again. As the Catholic schoolboy and Mueller reversals made clear, a lot can change in 24 hours — up to and including a story’s original premise.
Thanks mostly to the internet, today’s journalists do not always have the luxury of time. Remember the “Bird Boy” episode? Back on Oct. 15, 2009, a homemade gas balloon shaped to look like a flying saucer was released into the air above Fort Collins, Col., by Richard and Mayumi Heene, who claimed their 6-year-old son Falcon was trapped inside. Many networks carried live coverage of the pursuit for 90 minutes, only to discover upon landing that it had all been a hoax, possibly intended to secure a spot on a reality TV show.
The reporters covering that story as it unfolded did the best they could with the information they were given. Their best simply wasn’t good enough. Couple the time pressure of having to constantly post updates to the internet and the increasingly partisan nature of journalism, where the line between news and commentary is being blurred beyond recognition, and you begin to understand why “fake news” is more than just a Trump campaign slogan. If today’s news is any sort of history, it’s perpetual revisionism.
Any good journalist wants to be first with the big story, but because The News-Sentinel was an afternoon newspaper I learned early on I could not rely on breaking news because most events happened in the afternoon and evening — meaning the morning Journal Gazette would publish the story before I could. If I wanted the scoops, I would have to break the story by developing ideas and sources of my own. That process took time, but it also allowed for thoroughness and reflection.
Such considerations are not high priorities when people feel compelled to offer an immediate analysis of information that cannot truly be called news or even legitimate opinion until all the facts are verified. But when emotion become a legitimate substitute for reason, no sort of commentary is off limits.
Hence, just this week, the Daily Beast has labeled the Super Bowl champions the “preferred team of white nationalists” because the New England Patriot’s owner, coach and quarterback support Trump. And did you know Mary Poppins was a racist? Why else would Julie Andrews have worked in “black face” in the iconic 1964 Disney film, Professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner of Linfield College asks in a New York Times column, clearly reading way too much into a charming scene about soot and chimney sweeps.
On second thought, perhaps people who spout such things have too much time on their hands.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 461-8355.