It is not all about the news. The need for accurate reporting is certainly part of it, but there is a bigger issue. The public conclusions and impaired analysis of the material presented is a looming issue. I publish this weekly newspaper called the Geneva Shore Report. There are only 600 weekly hard copies available, however, the online and Facebook presence of the paper is pretty big (a few hundred thousand views, or reads, every week). The online part also includes a number of video snippets the staff put up on the net every day.

About a year ago, I ran a short video about motorcyclists who did not wear helmets, and I rendered verbally how bad of an idea that was, in my opinion, while the video was recording. The image I used was that of a nearby man on his motorcycle who was sitting there not wearing a helmet. The cycle was a Harley Davidson. I did not mention the name of the cycle in the video, but commenting “trolls” immediately decided that I, and the paper, were anti-Harley. Hundreds of negative commenters came in. I ended up having the mayor of Lake Geneva calling the paper to say that he was getting calls saying that Harley riders would not visit the town anymore because of the town’s anti-Harley attitude portrayed in the anti-Harley video. The president of the Harley Davidson association in Milwaukee, also called the paper and the mayor to add his two cents. I could, and did state, over and over in my replies to comments, that the video was about not wearing helmets while riding, but it didn’t matter. It was like the people upset had never even watched the video.

Come forward almost a year. I put up another video that I shot, as I was following a huge piece of farm equipment through the middle of town on a busy day making all other vehicles, including a school bus, try to dodge out of the way. The movement of the equipment was illegal and unsafe. A piece of equipment of that size, moving through downtown Lake Geneva requires a permit (by ordinance), warning flags and accompanying vehicles front and rear. The video again was about safety, farming, as a practice or career, was never mentioned. That video went viral on YouTube and got more than a million views, but the basis introducing the commenter’s copy that was put up was all about how the Geneva Shore Report and I were “anti-farmer in our beliefs.” The vice president of John Deere herself actually called the paper’s offices to try to see if she could teach the staff about the goodness of farmers. Again, it was as if nobody actually saw that video either!

Finally, a few weeks ago, the paper put up a video about a semi-driver who parked his giant rig in the middle of Lake Geneva’s busiest intersection in mid-day. He blocked all traffic through the town for twenty minutes, to make a delivery to a local restaurant. Once again, the comments and calls came in, not about any safety and convenience violations and/or issues, but about how the Geneva Shore Report and I were anti-trucker, anti-real worker, etc.

There is a problem in our society today, and it’s revealed by the huge negative responses to these video presentations. The problem might be laid off to ignorance, lack of life experience, or education, but fundamentally the real problem is deeper and more general. The problem is a lack of comprehension as to what’s really being presented. The complaints of fake news are all over today, but is it really fake news, or is it the public’s seemingly newfound inability to comprehend what’s right in front of its own eyes? Take a look at today’s national political scene and make a comparative conclusion about what’s happened here in a small town, in a short period of time, and what’s happening in Washington, and all over the nation.

It’s daunting and inescapable.

What can we do?       

~James Strauss

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