No reason for groups to paper over history
Aug 07, 2014 | 2346 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sometimes those of us in the world of journalism become our own worst enemies. There are some in our industry who feel the need to fabricate news, or at the least go searching for stories that aren’t really there. Sometimes those fabrications blow up into big scandals, like the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal the New York Times suffered through a decade ago. Other times, those fabrications are smaller scale and lead readers to wonder “What were they thinking?”

It appears that one of those lower-level “huhs?” has crossed paths with one of the valley’s signature events. Last Saturday, the Brattleboro Reformer, a local daily, ran an article with a headline that raised concerns that Nazis had marched in the Blueberry Festival parade in Dover two weeks ago.

Huh?

Well, that was just the headline. But that headline certainly rubbed some people in the community the wrong way, including members of the Dover Selecboard, a major sponsor of the Blueberry Festival parade. So much so that the Reformer’s writer was taken to task for the article at Tuesday’s board meeting (see page 2).

In the writer’s defense, the bulk of the article was spent explaining that there were no Nazis marching in the parade, just historic re-enactors dressed as German soldiers. Some of their medals and insignia included a swastika, which was the symbol of Hitler’s horrific regime. There had been a complaint in 2013 about a Nazi flag that had been been briefly flown at that year’s timeline, but that had been quickly dealt with. Organizers took care of the issue and made sure it wouldn’t occur again.

Normally we don’t make it a policy to publicly comment on things that take place in another newsroom. We know from first-hand experience that all of us in the news industry face myriad issues, and what may work well for one may be taboo for another. Think TMZ versus the NY Times. We also know that we have certainly made our own share of mistakes that have opened us up for criticism.

But in this case we felt compelled to comment.

Responsible journalism demands that reporters and headline writers know the difference between actors and real bad guys. Anybody who thinks actors marching in a parade are the real thing needs more help than a newspaper article can provide. We also suggest reading an article before writing its headline. It will save much angst, for readers, for event organizers and sponsors, and writers and editors who have to field those complaint calls.

There is nothing to indicate there were Nazi sympathizers or skinheads marching in the 2014 parade, spewing their particular brand of vitriol and hatred.

In fact, the marchers were part of the Living History Association, a group which held a history time-line encampment as part of the festival. That encampment included re-enactors dressed in a range of garb from Roman and Barbarian warriors to Union and Confederate soldiers to World War II Germans and Soviets from Afghanistan. In short, a broad spectrum of rogues, thugs, warriors, and soldiers, at least historically speaking.

But Nazis in Dover? Give us a break.

If modern-day Nazis really were planning on marching in Dover, or anywhere else for that matter, it would be certain their presence would have been announced far and wide in advance. After all, those who spew that kind of hatred make it a point of reaching for the most notoriety and media coverage they can get, once they decide to go public.

And while we’re beating this with a dead horse, we wonder how far folks should go in sanitizing history.

Last year, it was a flag with a swastika. OK, we understand that one, it’s a bold public display that many could find unsettling. But what about a lapel insignia? Should re-enactors be instructed not wear them? If the History Channel shows a documentary on World War II or the rise of Hitler, should editors blur out the swastika because some might be upset by it?

It’s a slippery slope, and one we don’t want to go down. History becomes clouded enough by the fog of time. It doesn’t need to be distilled and diluted to the point where its atrocities fail to invoke a strong, negative reaction.

The whole point of remembering, or in this case re-enacting, history is so that hopefully some of the atrocious things man has done in the past won’t be repeated.
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