It was a hatchet job, pure and simple.
I’m talking about the Jan. 5 Washington Post article “How nostalgia for white Christian America drove so many Americans to vote for Trump.”
The essential premise of the story is that a lot of white, racist, not-all-that-educated right-wing religious zealots drank the Trump Kool-Aid and put the man in office.
And Mount Airy is the perfect representation of a community of such people.
I’m not necessarily taking issue with some of the premise. There is a strong undercurrent of racism here in Mount Airy and Surry County (and sexism as well). There are some mean, nasty people here — and some of those folks are in positions of public leadership. And people here often like to wrap their racism and dishonesty and sexism in the Christian flag, quote a few Bible verses, and pretend all us fine.
All of that exists in Surry County, as it does in every community across America. And when it rears its ugly head, it should be exposed and called for what it is, with no sugar coating.
I can also say that Mount Airy and the larger Surry County has some of the most giving, most caring, most honest, genuine people you’ll find anywhere. This is a wonderful community, filled with great people. One of the best-known attributes of this community is the hospitality from local folks. That’s not some marketing line — talk to visitors or new residents and they’ll tell you the level of authentic, person-to-person hospitality exhibited by local folks is truly remarkable.
The community has its flaws, and always will, but it’s far from the teeming cesspool of ignorant, racist and religious bigotry the Washington Post implied the community to be.
That story, which apparently has been under way for weeks, if not months, was simply a poorly researched, poorly edited piece of yellow journalism.
I’ve been doing this business for a long time, and I can read through that story and pretty much tell you the folks who put it together came up with a premise: white, racist, ignorant, backward right-wing religious nut jobs put Trump in office.
Then, once they came up with the premise, they had to come up with a way to get the story to make a Big Splash, give it some traction. What better way than to choose Mount Airy, America’s hometown, the inspiration for the idyllic Mayberry? This would give the story a definite hook.
Then they went to work, sending a reporter and photographer here. It’s clear from the pictures they took and the quotes they used that the Post had feet on the ground in Mount Airy going back as far as Veteran’s Day. Hours upon hours of note-taking, and the reporters used only the quotes and notes that clearly supported the pre-conceived premise.
The writer, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, quotes a local resident as blaming President Obama for his loss of a $75,000 factory job and his belief that Trump will bring back those jobs.
There are a myriad of individuals in Surry County who understand Obama had little, if anything, to do with that job loss, and Trump won’t bring $75,000 factory jobs back to Surry County, yet the writer made no effort to quote a single one of those folks — as if this bitter, misguided person was representative of the entire county.
Bailey quotes a local pastor’s wife as saying some awful, egregiously racist things about African-Americans, yet Bailey apparently made no effort to quote the majority of citizens in the community who find those sentiments offensive and not representative of the community.
She quotes a local man as saying Andy Griffith did not base Mayberry on Mount Airy, and even cited a 1998 interview in which Griffith states Mayberry was not based on his home town, without once referencing other interviews in which Griffith said, or strongly implied, he did base the fictional town on Mayberry on Mount Airy.
She even quotes from two local folks regarding opposition to a downtown traffic roundabout and the Spencer’s development that fits the Post’s narrative of a town filled with people who want to move back to 1960 — without bothering to do a fact check on the true reason for opposition to both projects.
Or maybe Bailey did fact-check, but decided against accuracy and truth because it didn’t fit the story she wanted to tell.
I’m not necessarily trying to be the local editor standing up for the community. I’m not trying to say some of the premise in the Washington Post piece isn’t real, and I am certainly not painting myself as the apologist for some of the people quoted in that article showing off their overt racism wrapped in “Christian” beliefs.
But my word, I haven’t seen such a one-sided hatchet job in years.
A lot of folks like to throw around the generic tag of “liberal” at the media whenever they don’t understand a report, or disagree with a report.
I’ve seen and heard folks rail about certain stories being ignored by the mainstream media even though they are being covered by the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other media outlets, as if it’s the media’s fault the individuals haven’t taken the time to educate themselves about what’s out there and what’s not.
But I have to say, it’s hard to defend an industry when one of its supposed vanguard institutions — The Washington Post — can allow such shoddy work to be published.
I don’t know if the writer and editors involved in this project were truly liberal, with the goal of building a story, however one-sided and inaccurate, that fit their premise, or if they were simply lazy.
Or, I suspect, both.
Either way, they owe Mount Airy an apology, at the very least.
John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 336-415-4701.