I BEG TO DIFFER: Deciphering parallel universes in modern media

“The media is not your enemy. The media is not your friend. Reporters [who cover the issue you care about] are doing their job. This is true whether they work for a local weekly newspaper or a cable news station [and everything in between]. Whether or not they seem sympathetic to your point of view does not, and should not, matter. The best reporters will tell both sides of every story fairly, whether they agree with one side and oppose the other, or not.”

Jo Ann Augeri Silva

I’m actually quoting myself here, from a book on self advocacy I wrote several years ago. If I edited the book today, I’d add this line: “When reporters don’t write what you want to read, that doesn’t make them wrong.”

I’m writing this looking out at the ocean surrounding the small island where I’m learning discouraging facts about democracy here in the US and throughout the world. I just attended a lecture whose conclusion was deeply dispiriting: we live in parallel universes. 

Of course, I’ve been keeping up with Marblehead news while away on this learning vacation. When explosions take place in your hometown, you want to know the facts. The cause of the explosion? You are about to enter the Marblehead version of parallel universes.

Now, call me prejudiced, but I think this newspaper does a damn fine job of presenting the facts. But you wouldn’t think so if you read some of the comments on various Facebook pages, where slurs like “slanted,” “unfair,” and even “the local rag” have been hurled at reporters, editors and board members of this paper. It’s hard to know how representative the loudest anti-Current voices are, probably because they are so very loud they drown out other voices. But their slings and arrows have an all-too-familiar ring.

There will always be criticisms of the press, or “the media” to use the preferred term for bashing. But given that the conference I’m attending is focused on democracy, my ears are fine-tuned to hints that threaten freedom of the press. 

Freedom of the press, in case anyone’s forgotten, is one of the cornerstones of democracy. One of the hallmarks of totalitarian governments is the determination to tamp down free media, to censor it, to control it, to prevent it from being free enough to tell the truth. How that tamping down starts is predictable: attack the press, attack the members of the press. If you don’t like the facts reported by the media, deny its veracity, deny its fairness, deny its right to exist. When all else fails, offer “alternative facts.” 

The First Amendment, of course, gives us the absolute right to attack the media, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There are parts of the media I don’t like very much and I enjoy attacking them, primarily because they don’t deal in facts. 

If you are angry about something you read, feel free to exercise your First Amendment rights and complain about it. First, though, do a reality check. Are you angry because the story you read doesn’t reflect your point of view? Because it shouldn’t. Unless it’s an editorial or a column like this, there shouldn’t be a slant, and on these pages there probably isn’t. 

Continuing that reality check, is your criticism the truth, or is it a fiction you’ve constructed to support your point of view? Do we, here, want to use tactics practiced on the national stage, where screaming falsehoods is “justified” in the name of free speech, essentially weaponizing the First Amendment? I hope we can all answer that with a solid “NO.”

In a democracy, there should be divergent opinions. Democracy doesn’t depend on my side winning all the time or your side losing all the time, it depends on people coming together to find a way to make our country, our town, work while acknowledging differences. Local media bashing that unfairly criticizes fact-based reporting drives a wedge between us and creates what I hope will never happen here: parallel universes.

Jo Ann Augeri Silva is a former editor of the Marblehead Reporter.

Jo Ann Augeri Silva

Marblehead resident Jo Ann Augeri Silva, a retired journalist, author, public relations professional and educator, was an editor of the Marblehead Reporter.

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