As it’s been for the past 62 years, this is the week I mark the anniversary of my birth, and as the total continues to mount, it’s become a time of reminiscing.When my 18th birthday …
As it’s been for the past 62 years, this is the week I mark the anniversary of my birth, and as the total continues to mount, it’s become a time of reminiscing.
When my 18th birthday rolled around in 1975, I was well into my first foray into the world of community journalism. As a high school senior, the local newspaper editor, Bill Meyer, later an inductee into the Kansas Journalism Hall of Fame, had taken me on as an intern. “The Squire,” as he was known, was a tough but fair tutor who schooled me in the arts of journalism and photography, and as I approached graduation, I realized I’d discovered a possible career direction. I worked for the paper full-time that summer before heading off to the University of Kansas as one of its newest journalism majors.
I came back home the following two summers to work at that newspaper, and at the end of the second I decided to stay on as sports editor for the fall, a title of little real meaning as I continued to write about anything and everything.
It was this week in 1978 that was my last, for then, at the Marion County Record. I was going back to KU, back to my formal journalism studies, and the Squire surprisingly marked the occasion with a short goodbye column. My favorite line was this:
“He’s also learned that burrow is a hole in the ground and burro is an ass – every good reporter is expected to know the difference. Dave does.”
Knowing Bill, I knew that this was more than a simple play on words. It was a compliment of the highest order. It was his way of saying that I’d learned to be discerning in my reporting, learned how to look at situations to figure out where the story was, and where it wasn’t. And to this day I’ve never had higher praise about my work than having Bill Meyer call me a “good reporter.”
He was a good teacher, too good, in fact, because when I went back to college, I found my journalism classes to be utterly boring. Journalism had also gone terribly negative in the wake of the Watergate scandals, a direction generally at odds with my community journalism background. I abandoned journalism as a major and eventually ended up in education, spending over a quarter-century in that field before returning to that very same Kansas newspaper to embark on a new adventure in the field I first came to love as a teen.
While Bill used burrow as a noun, it’s meaning as a verb is essential to being a good journalist, particularly when trying to get at underlying truths to complex situations. It sometimes takes a lot of digging to get to the essential elements of a story, and that’s never been truer than in the weeks following our most recent election.
There’s never been a bigger adversary for journalists to battle than the public’s increasing reliance on social media as a source for information. People readily lap up the 100-character tweets they’re fed without doing any burrowing of their own. And before you counter that tweets can be 280 characters, I’ve done a little burrowing – tweets have been getting shorter even though Twitter doubled their maximum length. 100 characters is actually generous, as the majority of tweets are around 33 characters or less.
Our soon-to-be former President and his minions have manipulated this platform to press their case that the election was rigged, that voter fraud was rampant, and that Donald J. Trump was the rightful winner of an election he lost by more than seven million votes. They’ve cranked out tweet after tweet asserting their claims as fact without any information readers can burrow into to determine if those claims are true. But many have been eager to believe and have swallowed it gladly as “truth,” growing fat in their delusions.
It makes it harder for folks doing honest burrowing to get through, because burrowing creates great mounds of information right at a time when people have been conditioned away from digging into them with critical eyes.
Let’s take one small item from the deluge of disinformation, the claim that the Dominion voting machines were somehow manipulated to favor Joe Biden. With years of news about computer hackers, years of warnings about how you shouldn’t click on that link in an email from an unknown sender, and years of having to scan your own personal computers for malicious spyware, the public has embraced the truth that computers in general are susceptible to manipulation, and rightfully so, because they are. In that context, claims that voting machines can be hacked and manipulated aren’t far-fetched at all if you haven’t done any burrowing into how they work, and Trump’s team has taken full advantage of that.
But really, it doesn’t take much burrowing at all to learn that the Dominion voting machines produce a paper printout for each and every vote registered. Every vote from those machines can be directly checked against voter registration rolls and verified. Numerous investigations have done just that. Digging a little more, it turns out those machines aren’t linked to each other or to the internet during voting, so hackers don’t have access to them. Claims that the votes from this system were fraudulently manipulated on a massive scale fall flat with just a little bit of burrowing.
When Trump’s attorneys have taken their Twitter-level claims to court, they’ve been soundly rejected because they’ve not been able to provide any substantive proof to support them. Tweets present fraud as fact, but even judges appointed by Trump have declared that the real fraud is in the claims themselves.
Trump’s desperate attempts to avoid the label of “loser” that he’s long used as a supreme insult against his adversaries are unprecedented and dangerous. But while entire editorials have been devoted to Trump’s tirades, let’s boil it all down to a Tweet-level message anyone can understand. For this, I’ll take my lead from the Squire:
“A burrow is a hole in the ground and a burro is Donald Trump.”
A tiny bit longer than average, but please, feel free to re-tweet it. There’s already a mountain of evidence out there of its truth without any additional burrowing.