i read a recent article in the New York Times.Times writer Glenn Thrush was in Camilla interviewing farmers who lost so much, some everything they had, in the storm. His article didn’t focus on the losses, the recovery efforts, or the work of farmers. No, he chose to focus on climate change.
I’ve done several rebuttals to the arrogant work of East Coast elite “journalists” over the years. This time I’m not wanting to just vent off my frustrations with an angry reply because I think there’s too much at stake this time. This time it’s not just a typical New Yorker looking down his nose at the “dumb Southerners” who don’t understand science. As the political and social divide continues to grow in America and we inch ever closer to whatever cataclysm awaits us at the end of this bumpy road, somewhere the chorus of a Greek tragedy is crying out “this is how they got Trump.”
At some point there has to be a realization. I’m sitting in Georgia, an advocate for the defense in this case. So my position is admittedly biased. But I’m also a writer and I know a bit about that craft as well. Let me just say that a person who can take a woody shard of genetic material, shove it in a hole in the ground, and allow the sky to provide the needed hydration and photosynthetic energy and thereby derive a living for himself and his family is either a scientist or a witch doctor. Either way, his livelihood requires much more understanding of science than a newspaper writer needs.
And that is where the realization must happen. Mr Thrush May have spent the decade of tropical silence between Katrina/Rita and Harvey attending cocktail parties but the farmers in South Georgia were busy trying to turn seeds, dirt, rain, and sunlight into money. While Thrush was rubbing elbows with celebrities, the farmers were looking at late frost dates, finding days that were dry enough for planting, planning crop rotations, timing fertilizers or defoliants, setting traps for boll weevils, planning irrigation, paying property taxes, researching breeds of hogs to determine which will be most profitable. You know, science stuff.
But the biggest realization that needs to be made is that what happened in South Georgia when that storm ripped through wasn’t political. It wasn’t about climate change. It wasn’t even about the $2.5 billion in agricultural losses. What happened was bigger than all that. It was a human tragedy on a colossal scale.
Farming is a ridiculously difficult job. Yes, there are some factory farms raking in subsidies and turning massive profits. But there are far more that are covering expenses and maybe a little more. Many of these farmers are working the land their parents, grandparents, and perhaps further generations worked before them. Many hope to pass down the land and the livelihood to their children. Recovering from this disaster is the only way such a cultural and familial heritage can be passed on because there is presently nothing to hand down to the next generation.
I'm sure part of the article's bourgeois tone was Thrush's own frustration. He was the NYT's White House correspondent until several of his female coworkers brought allegations of unwanted sexual behavior against him. I'm sure he'd rather be reporting on policy in Washington than covering the ruination of some backwards hayseeds in Mitchell County. So instead of covering the human tragedy, he made it all about politics. It says a lot that his employers think covering a human tragedy in South Georgia is a demotion worthy of sexual harassment. Why are these people the ones reporting this story in this way and telling the world it is All the News That's Fit to Print? How is this worthy of a newspaper of record? How can we ever expect to change the tone of this conversation when human tragedy isn't fit to print but the writer's ideas about the role of climate change in the tragedy is?
As it is becoming increasingly clear that big city journalism is trending toward caring less and less about what goes on in places like Nashville or Alapaha, Georgia, Southerners need to be trending more toward small journalism to tell the stories about what is really going on. Support your local papers and other journalism. We need better regional options as well. Maybe if the New York Times wants to cover a story like the hurricane and agriculture they should partner with the Valdosta Daily Times rather than send a Washington-based Times writer who doesn't understand farming or rural life.
Mostly, we need thoughtful reactions. We need to be more and more self-sufficient, more and more regionalist and localist in how we operate. Perhaps instead of giving an out-of-town big city writer a chance to try to make us look stupid in the Times, we need to throw him off the property as soon as he shows up.
To their credit, the New York Times did open comments to farmers and others in the area to add input through a comments section on a follow up to the original article. But what did that prove other than admitting, after the backlash, that sending Thrush to Georgia was also a disaster? So I offered the Times my advice on the matter in the form of a comment I'll add here:
My name is Sam Burnham, I’m the Curator of All the Biscuits in Georgia (allthebiscuitsingeorgia.com) and an advocate and supporter of agriculture and the people who make it happen. Rather than sitting in Manhattan waiting for responses, you need to send people down here to look and see. They need to know some farmers and the local businesses who depend on the success of an agricultural economy. Get off the paved road, get your hands dirty, be real journalists. More importantly, be a real humans. You want to understand why what you printed was so wrong? Come see for yourself. Come open minded and ready to learn. Oh, and come hungry.
Speaking of working class families, here is another proposal by a progressive politician pandering to them. Sweeping anti-corruption legislation that is going to eliminate the influence of money in Washington and make heavily centralized government work for working families "again."
There are so many problems in this tweet that it is worthy of an article.
Let's look at the unsaid portion first. This isn't about pending or proposed legislation. This is about a soon-to=be-announced presidential run. This is a buzzword laden work of propaganda designed to launch a campaign for the highest office in the land. It sounds good in the ears of struggling parents, looks good on paper, but it is essentially nothing. While having secured a role as a media darling, Senator Warren has the charisma of the dust I boldly swept from the front porch this morning. She's Hillary Clinton without the stage presence.
Here's a look at the buzz words:
"Bold new plan" - Did you suspect that she might describe her plan as recycled, weak, mediocre, or routine? No. She adds hyperbole and tries to get you excited about it. I'm not.
"Change the way Washington does business" - Washington does business by continually grabbing power through sweeping legislation. She's saying she's going to change the way Washington does business by enacting some business as usual. In essence, smoking is not only the cause of cancer, it is also the cure.
"Anti-corruption" - That town has been claiming to be working on anti-corruption legislation since the government relocated the anti-corruption efforts there from previous efforts in New York and Philadelphia. It never works, it is always corrupt, it is never going to be not corrupt.
"Eliminate the influence of money" - Elizabeth Warren, a college professor who CNN estimates to be worth between $3.7 million and $10 million and lives in a $1.9 million Victorian mansion is going to eliminate the influence of money in her $174, 000 job? I'm not convinced.
"Works for working families 'again'" - The way she says this suggests that Washington once sided with the working class, regular people, over the rich and powerful. This has never been true. It has never happened. There has never been a time that it was the prevailing philosophy. Ever.
The federal design, as used today, is not one that can be friendly to the working class. It is too far removed, too out of touch, too reliant on lobbyists and donors. Working class people are so busy trying to survive that they don't have the time, or really the energy, to lobby Washington themselves. The three seats that represent them in Congress are a drop in the bucket.
The only answer is to move the seats of power closer to the people, where they will have more access, more influence, more say. Allow state and local governments to make decisions for themselves - especially on specifically local, state, and regional issues. Want to really help the working class? Make it easier to start small business, maintain family farms, and level the playing field to help small banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions. If you want to really help the average Joe, get the federal government out of his way so he can help himself.
Most of all, quit slinging the same 240 year old line of bull. It's tired.
Let's take a good look at the now deleted Most Offensive Tweet of the Day:
“I went to high school with GOP guv candidate @BrianKempGA. We played YMCA ball from childhood. Politics be damned. He is a nice guy, always was. Kind to a fault, He’s a friend, always has been, and will be when we’re old(er) and grey(er). That’s how all this should work, people.”
That nasty and hateful tweet, given by the Dean of UGA's Grady College of Journalism ignited a firestorm of protest. Can you imagine the gall and the complete lack of respect for human life that it must require to call someone a "nice guy" or "kind to a fault?"
So the dean issued the apology at right.
This situation makes me sick to my stomach. I just heard about it tonight. This kind of thing is getting far too common in our deteriorating society. In reality, Charles Davis was assaulted for congratulating a lifelong friend on a major life accomplishment.
His encouragement that "politics be damned" and "that's how all this should work, people" is a commentary on our current political tone. He is saying he may not agree with his friend's politics but he's still his friend and he's congratulating him.
But there is a growing segment of the Left in America that is bent on dehumanizing their opposition. They throw out labels like "racist," misogynist," "homophobic," or "xenophobic" to assault policies they disagree with, not because the labels fit but because the labels help to strip away the humanity of their opponents. If their opponents aren't human, but rather "fascist" or "Nazi", they are easier to combat. "You don't want to vote for a 'bigot' do you? Then vote for my candidate or just stay home."
The irony in their argument is that very definition of bigot is "a person who is intolerant toward those holding different opinions." The very people slinging the bigot label are themselves bigots. Because the only thing they are really slinging the label for is because Brian Kemp is their opponent. Oh, they'll point to some "dog whistle" or some policy that they will twist or contort to make it look racist whatever-ist. But the truth is, they are just bigoted against opposing ideas. The best way to censor those ideas is by stamping them with an "-ist."
And it isn't just elections. It's about culture. It goes back to statues, to flags, to holidays, to ceremonies, to historic sites. They have to control the narrative to sell their philosophy. They need to assault the art, the politics, and the structure of the society to control the narrative. That is what this is all about.
Charles Davis didn't owe anyone an apology. He didn't do anything wrong. In fact, he took a positive step, he led by example. He softened the tone of politics for a minute. He let politics get in the back seat and put humanity in the driver seat. But the vitriolic response he got is a clue to why the state of our rhetoric is so poisonous.
So now we need to add some skepticism to certain terminology. When you hear one of those "-ist" words pop up, be skeptical. Don't just assume it is true. Look for evidence. Investigate to see if it is just a nasty personal attack used when a proper rebuttal could not be made.
But also don't return their bigotry in kind. There are plenty of people on both sides of the aisle who want to have a healthy and serious conversation about ways to build a better society. There are also people on both sides who want to silence and cease dissent. Look across the aisle and see a person. Look over there and see someone who has humanity and dignity. Expect to see someone who is nice and kind, and let politics be damned. That doesn't mean agreeing with them, it means letting them be human in your eyes. Because if they aren't human in your eyes, then you can't possibly expect to be human in theirs.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire