You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy™
Perception versus Reality.
I learned this in Journalism 101 my 1st day at USC.
The instructor showed us a newspaper photo.
It shows a man wearing a suit exiting a building.
“I’ll tell you this,” the instructor says. “The man is the mayor of the town, and this photograph lead to him losing the election.”
This suddenly feels like an important learning moment. I stare at the photo. I am intrigued. The man is white. The look on his face indicates to me that he is caught off guard. He is looking at the camera as if he has something to hide and he is not happy about the confrontation. I look above the white man wearing the suit and I see he is exiting a BAR. I cannot read the name of the bar, but there is no doubt that the sign above the unhappy white man is a sign that says BAR.
Someone raises their hand and the teacher motions for the student to tell the class what the picture represents.
“The mayor was caught drinking in the middle of the day coming out of the local bar,” the student says with a smile. “That’s why he looks so pissed.”
The class laughs.
The instructor laughs as well. “The mayor is definitely pissed,” the instructor says changing the photograph on the overhead projector.
“This was the front page of the paper the next day,” the instructor says. “Whatever the story was about was lost because of this picture of the mayor exiting this building.”
“Yeah, he’s coming out of a bar,” someone blurts out.
“Really?,” the instructor says, “focusing the new picture on the overhead.
I sense the lesson is about to be revealed.
The professor smiles. “Was he coming out of a bar? Or was that just the perception created by the photograph?”
I look at the new picture on the overhead.
It is the same photo of the mayor exiting the building, only this is a full frame shot, not the cropped version that was published in the paper.
This photo shows that the BAR is not a BAR. The BAR is really a BARBER shop.
The mayor was exiting a Barber shop. The mayor was getting his hair cut in the middle of the day, not drinking.
The photo had been cropped to show BAR instead of BAR BER SHOP.
A murmur rose from the class.
“Wow,” I exclaimed aloud. “That’s unbelievable.”
Why would they publish that?, I thought to myself. It’s so misleading. It’s so wrong. I was only 19, but I knew the power that the single photo had.
“Perception is reality,” the professor said. “The newspaper could’ve run the full photo showing the reality of the mayor’s afternoon. But the mayor and the publisher don’t like each other, so an editorial decision was made and the picture was cropped to show what it showed.”
The teacher paused for a moment to let this amazing lesson sink in.
“Perception versus reality,” he said again.
“Journalists with a point of view can be dangerous to the truth,” he said.
The mayor’s harmless afternoon at a barber shop was overshadowed by the lie that he was a boozer drinking on tax payer money in the middle of the day. He lost the next election because of that image that was fictitiously indelible to the voters heading to the polls.
Fast forward to January 19th 2018.
Washington D.C. The Women’s March is in full throat across the nation.
There are a lot of images, but one in particular showing a teenage boy and a Native American with a drum is the image that has been put under the news cycle microscope.
The video shows a teenage boy apparently mocking a Native American banging his drum. The boy’s are white. The boys are wearing MAGA hats. The boy closest to the Native American can’t be older than than 16 years old. He is a pimply faced punk with a smug look on his face.
With the history of Washington D.C. behind him, this image explodes across the globe as a visceral moment. The broadcasters pontificate, painting a picture of disrespect and white privilege and hate speak.
I hear an immediate demand by one talking head for an apology from the boy’s Catholic School in KY.
The cable news programs show the boy standing inches from the old Indian man’s face as he rhythmically, passionately bangs the drum.
The teen seems smug as I hear the broadcaster tell me about the group of Kentucky Catholic School kids being disrespectful chanting BUILD THE WALL. BUILD THE WALL.
It is repeatedly mentioned that they are wearing bright red Make America Great Hats and chanting build the wall.
I have no other context than this for most of the day. I think about the image and it bothers me.
Douche bag teens, I think to myself. Why do they have to disrespect the old man who we find out later is Vietnam Vet who was upset about indigenous lands being considered for a border wall.
Regardless where you stand on the border controversy, you’re un-American if you don’t believe in the old man’s right to bang his drum and state his beliefs.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
BANG YOUR DRUM.
SAY WHAT YOU WANT, AS LONG AS IT IS PEACEFUL.
Then a funny thing happened on my way to wholesale condemnation of the teens from Kentucky.
I saw another angle of the same scene.
Suddenly my thoughts about the mayor and the BARBER shop resurfaced reminding me there are always two sides to a story and the truth is always somewhere in the middle.
This new uncensored video doesn’t begin with the perceived confrontation. This new video doesn’t begin with an emotionally charged closeup of the old man banging his drum just inches from the smug kid staring at him. This new version doesn’t have the broadcast fueled narrative of contempt.
In this new version, the teens are standing on the steps nowhere near the Native American. The teens may be chanting build the wall, or perhaps chanting their school name to the beat of the drum. Perhaps they are doing what stupid 16 year olds do when left alone to their own devices. Whatever they are doing, it is not aggressive, it is not demonstrably wrong, and it is certainly protected by the freedoms granted to every American.
The video shows the Native American man with the drum close the distance between himself and the kids. The video shows the old man approach the kids. The man is banging the drum, angrily, defiantly.
This again is his American Right!
The old man walks directly up to the smug teenager and bangs his drum almost in the kid’s face.
The Native American bangs and bangs and moves to within inches of the young boy’s face.
The young boy says nothing. The young boy does nothing. The young boy holds his ground and his face, to me, seems part shocked, part intimidated, part amused.
The moment is the mayor coming out of the bar. It is whatever you want it to be. Just add fake narrative and stir.
Truth? why bother?
To me, the kid looks like a 16 year old pimply faced punk ass kid suddenly face to face with a moment that is being used politically and taken out of context.
The news media, as is so prone to happen now-a-days, takes the initial image and rushes to air.
Context? Who needs context?
If you are CNN or MSNBC the narrative is simple. White privilege Catholic School boys wearing MAGA hats show disrespect, possibly racism as a Native American man exercises his right to demonstrate.
TRUMP’S NEW AMERICA THEY PROCLAIM.
It isn’t till ABC news, a network that often leans left, shows me both sides of this story.
It’s now 24 hours later, but I am appreciative of a more unfiltered version.
I watch this new video and I immediately think of the BAR and the Mayor and the Barber shop.
And the damage is done.
CNN and MSNBC won’t undue the damage. They have broadcast the face of that racist, MAGA hat wearing teenager across the planet. If you only caught Saturday’s broadcast, you are reminded again of how everything in this country is bad.
But you know what?
Like my teacher so poignantly demonstrated to me in Journalism 101: Perception is reality.
Is life that bad?
If you have people who love you in your life, then life’s good.
If you have a full belly and a roof over your head, then life’s good.
Perception is reality.
If you look for bad, you’ll surely find it. Turn off the news and read a book. Take a walk and marvel at the birds chirping, the dogs running, the sun peeking out from behind a cloud.
Life is Grand!
I’m not Pollyanna.
I realize that the world often seems broken. I realize that I am more fortunate than 99% of humanity.
I’m not nescient. I know there are many wrongs that need to be righted.
This is not a commentary on every Damn thing in the world. If it was, I’d still be writing.
This is teaching moment, from my perspective.
Sometimes, you need to step back, take a breath before you rush to judgement assigning all the bias you have in your life to a single moment.
Take in the big picture. Get both sides of the story.
And ask yourself.
What’s going on here?
Is this kid a racist? Probably not.
Is he a punk ass 16 year old pimply faced kid? Probably.
Is the old man upset about the kids chanting to his drum beat? Probably.
Did he mean to close the distance between the 2 groups? Yes. It looks extemporaneous, emotional, and unplanned.
Did this simple act of walking toward the Catholic kids ignite the tension, enhance the visual and incite a narrative based on bias?
Damn Right it did.
Remember; perception is reality.
It’s not always accurate, but it is always what it is depending on whom is perceiving it.
Just ask the mayor exiting the Bar that day.