There was a time, not long ago, when the mainstream media drove the agenda. Newspapers decided what was news, TV news copied whatever was in that day’s paper, and that’s what we all talked about.
Of course, those days are gone. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and whatever social media monster comes next, social media increasingly sets the agenda, and the mainstream media follows. You can call it the democratization of the media, or you can call it mob rule. A dismal example of the power of social media, and the willingness of professional media to follow the narrative, played itself out in the U.S. this week. Let’s call it the story of the Smirking Kid in the MAGA hat.
It started with a video that apparently showed white high school students, in Washington for a pro-life/anti-abortion (take your pick) rally, many dressed in Make America Great Again hats and shirts, mocking a Native American elder at the Lincoln Memorial. At the centre was a smirking, MAGA-hatted student staring down the elder with a look of condescension or contempt, or both. The Twitterverse went into full outrage, the school (a Catholic high school in Kentucky) and the students were vilified and threatened. Mainstream media outlets joined the piling on, with even outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post joining in the general outrage. The Associated Press reported: “Videos circulating online show a youth staring at and standing extremely close to Nathan Phillips, a 64-year-old Native American man singing and playing a drum. Other students, some wearing Covington clothing and many wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and sweat shirts, surrounded them, chanting, laughing and jeering.”
And now, as radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say, and the rest of the story.
A new video that surfaced days after the incident shows what happened before and after the encounter Friday. A group of black men from something called the Hebrew Israelites hurled vicious, vile racial slurs at the kids for about an hour. The kids – who were not a mob as depicted, just waiting for their bus – reacted by trying to drown out the abuse with a school cheer. Into the fray came the elder, chanting in an attempt to diffuse the situation.
So the kids were taunted, and reacted as teenagers in a group would react. It’s ugly all around. Even the elder doesn’t come off looking so good; he was described as a Vietnam veteran – adding to the outrage that a veteran would be treated so shabbily – while in fact he is not.
You can read whatever you want from this episode, and people on both sides of the Great American Divide have done exactly that. That is what we expect from social media, but it is not what we expect from professional journalists. Reputable news outlets have got to stop reacting to every twitch from Twitter, take a deep breath, look into the facts, and most importantly, keep their fingers off the Twitter trigger.
Thinking about a nice fun-in-the-sun vacation in Mexico? At this time of year, when winter seems particularly endless, it’s awfully tempting. But if you do, bring a flack jacket. Mexico has set a new murder record for the second year running, with 33,341 homicides in 2018, and almost 15 per cent increase from last year’s record total. The numbers are even worse than when the country was in the grips of a drug war in 2011. .
But surely, the vacation spots are safe, right? Probably for turistas, but not so much for others. Last year, Cancun saw 540 murders, more than double the 227 of 2017. Acapulco has a murder rate of 103 killings per 100,000 people, making it one of the most violent cities in the world. And for anyone thinking, “Gee, Mexico would be a great place to be a journalist,” think again: since 2000, 122 reporters have met their final deadline.
A new type of crime, fuel thefts, left dozens dead a couple of weeks ago. The illegal tapping of pipelines and refineries is apparently a $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion criminal enterprise, led by organized crime. A tapped gas pipeline exploded a couple of weeks ago, killing more than 80 people who had gathered to soak up the fuel.
Still way south of the border, Venezuela is in the grips of a revolution. The president, Nicolas Maduro, is a classic South American strongman who has ruined the country’s economy and mutilated its democracy. The leader of the opposition, Juan Guaido, declared himself president, with the support of several South American countries, the U.S. and Canada. Which ways this goes, nobody knows. But we do know Venezuela is a basket case.
Violence and hunger are widespread; children are literally starving to death. Grocery store shelves are bare. Hospitals struggle to treat severely malnourished children. The country’s public health system has collapsed. More than three million people have left since 2014. And the rate of inflation, according to the International Monetary Fund, is at 10 MILLION PER CENT, the worst inflation rate in history. And this in a country that has the world’s largest proven oil reserves. Venezuela should be awash in cash, but instead thanks to a dictatorial socialist leader, it’s virtually destroyed. So, if it’s any consolation, Alberta, we’re not the only place to piss away the gift of massive amounts of oil.
Michel Legrand, 85, French movie score composer, Oscar winner for music in 1968, 1971 and 1983. His most famous work, and maybe the most beautiful, was the haunting theme to the film Summer of ’42 which, by the way, is still a terrific movie… Russell Baker, 93, Pulitzer Prize winner humor columnist for the New York Times. I read a lot of Russell Baker many years ago. Now that I’m old enough to have a real appreciation of him, I can’t find any of his books …