The Great Bathroom Wall Of Public Discourse

The Great Bathroom Wall Of Public Discourse
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In the world of journalism, it used to be that facts were facts, and opinions were clearly stated. It was the check and balance in the world of disseminating news and information that was as needed as the separation of church and state in this country and the abstaining from having dogs and cats living together so as to stop, as Bill Murray said in “Ghostbusters,” mass hysteria.

Today, civil discourse is anything but civil and has turned into something that resembles a shouting match between yet to be potty trained 3-year-olds and obscenely drunk adults: none of it makes much sense, and everyone is just spewing vitriol at one another until one party takes a huge tantrum or simply falls over from swinging too wildly with their “informed opinions.”

You can thank social media for much of this, and you can most certainly give a nod to the tumultuous and almost tragically laughable state of national politics in our country currently. Both are bringing out the worst in our so called humanity. As one business owner described to me this week, as I found myself doing yet another story trying to re-inform the public that the wrongful conclusions that many had jumped to on social media about the melee on the Boardwalk last weekend that resulted in the arrests of 12 African-Americans had nothing to do with the controversial Black Lives Matter movement; “social media is the great bathroom wall and it’s being scribbled with some of the most reprehensible and heinous things that you can imagine.”

Just picture that comment and the dirtiest turnpike bathroom you’ve ever had to use for a moment the next time you are about to go off on an ill-advised rant on your social media page. Ask yourself, “is this something that brings value to the larger conversation, something that’s well thought out and sourced, or is just an ill-informed vulgarity that is attempting to be Vonnegut?”

This week, The Dispatch Managing Editor Shawn Soper was accused of “insulting the intelligence with untruths” of one reader who accused him of “having a hard time reporting the facts without his personal innuendo.”

His crime: he reported correctly that the police investigation had found no connection with the aforementioned 12 arrested African-Americans and the controversial Black Lives Matter movement.

While there were reports of people chanting “Black Lives Matter” that particular evening, the facts simply don’t show that it was a demonstration from the BLM folks. Blaming the media or criticizing the city or accusing Soper of scandalous opining in this case is just simply wrong.

This is not a cover-up or a result of the mainstream media or this newspaper being “in bed” with the city in some sort of orchestrated “House of Cards-ish” plan to retain tourism dollars and dupe the taxpayers. If you still dispute the facts after they’ve been laid at your feet like Frankincense in front of the Baby Jesus, that’s on you. Good journalists can’t control how you interpret and digest what is happening and changing in the world. We are just supposed to report the facts and in this case, Soper did.

Look, I’ve worked with countless journalists in my career, including Soper for many years, and I can undeniably say that I’ve never recalled a time where he has editorialized anything at this newspaper, and furthermore, I don’t even know who he is voting for in this election, nor do I know who he has voted for in the past. He’s probably the least opinionated or politically slanted journalist that I’ve ever worked with. The point is, in an age where the journalistic world has changed to the point where the number of news outlets has grown to the point that there is a literal channel for seemingly every point on the political spectrum; and many “journalists” have gotten themselves a PR rep and a Twitter handle to spew their opinions on television any time they can get “facetime” for personal gain, we have a hard time deciphering journalists like Soper, who merely report the facts, and everyone else.

Similarly, I was accused of “race-baiting” this week because of a story that I wrote in last week’s edition about the passing of an influential African-American retired school teacher. The person took umbrage with the fact that I pointed out, correctly, that the woman had been at teacher at a school in Berlin before schools were integrated in 1968. However, during an interview with the 90-year-old woman back in February, she mixed up her facts and said the wrong name of the school that was all-black in Berlin, and mixed it up with the name of a school that she taught at later, which it was integrated. That was my mistake, but to say that a story about a sweet old lady who dedicated her life to teaching children and upholding her heritage and history as “race-baiting” with “intent to divide us all instead of unify us” is one of the most amazing absurdities I’ve ever experienced in this business and in life. Ironically, her hate mail was accompanied by a request for a plug in the newspaper for her upcoming class reunion which shows another amazing phenomenon in the digital age: criticize something to death unless it’s helping you and your interests.

Facts are still facts, but in a world where we are being constantly hit with information from all sides, the great ruse of the digital age is that we are more informed, when in fact, the opposite is true. That’s where civil discourse used to matter most in finding truth, obtaining compromise, and ultimately making progress.

It doesn’t take much to be a blogger or a sub-par news outlet that exists purely to drive “web-traffic” with unvetted information so it can “pad the numbers” and thusly drive up advertising revenue. Journalism still exists because there are people dedicated to getting the story right, no matter how long that takes, and no matter whether or not that fits every reader’s narrative.

I realize this may not change anything, and it might do nothing to rationalize with the tantrum throwing 3-year-olds on the Internet or the folks who are obscenely drunk on their own political ideals. I merely hope that while you are so angrily blaming the media, you’ll notice the mirror that I am so graciously holding up to your angry faces.

About The Author: Bryan Russo

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Bryan Russo returned to The Dispatch in 2015 to serve as News Editor after working as a staff writer from 2007-2010 covering the Ocean City news beat. In between, Russo worked as the Coastal Reporter for NPR-member station WAMU 88.5FM in Washington DC and WRAU 88.3 FM on the Delmarva Peninsula. He was the host of a weekly multi-award winning public affairs show “Coastal Connection.” During his five years in public radio, Russo’s work won 19 Associated Press Awards and 2 Edward R. Murrow Awards and was heard on various national programs like NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, APM’s Marketplace and the BBC. Russo also worked for the Associated Press (Philadelphia Bureau) covering the NHL and the NBA and is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter and composer.