I don't have an opinion about the School of the Americas. A well-informed newspaper reader should probably have reached one by now, given the significant news coverage surrounding this place and the protesters who trespassed there.
Honestly, though, I don't have enough information, yet, about the school. And most readers of The Brainerd Daily Dispatch don't have enough information to form an opinion, either.
The Dispatch has chosen to cover the human-interest angle of this story because Mary Benson is a member of our community. In doing so, it has become her marketing machine to draw attention to her cause, funneling her opinions to readers as truth. That's fine on the editorial page, but unacceptable on the front page. Mary Benson and her protesters have manipulated the press so well that their story and only their story receives attention.
I sense that her protest is only a part of a larger issue. Reading only this part, which is all that this newspaper has given us, doesn't allow us to see how it fits in relation to the whole.
In a July 13 article covering Mary Benson's farewell party, Jodie Tweed wrote, "Protesters say graduates of the school have been linked to murder, torture and other human rights abuses. Officials say the school's mission is to spread democratic principles among Latin American leaders who come there to study."
This attempt at balance does not count. Where is the attribution? What are the sources of the information? Is this hearsay or is this fact? Most outrageous is that this same paragraph was used again on July 18 in a news story with only two or three words modified.
Since the newspaper explored this subject beyond the news of the protesters, most of its readers will assume the opinion that the protesters are courageous, brave and committed to changing a wrong in society. Mary Benson is close to home; the SOA and Latin America are not. So we side with what and whom we know -- Mary Benson.
When The Dispatch placed Mary Benson on the front page, frequently covered her story and did not provide a balanced perspective, it gave its support to this cause. In that, The Dispatch has puts its readers at risk.
Readers -- please don't fall into this trap. Stop and think. Seek for better information. Wonder about the things you have read.
Is it the school or the graduates who are linked to these horrible happenings? Is the school teaching incorrect principles or are the graduates just not applying the things they learned? We can take this line of questioning further, but it is just an example of the curiosity that must accompany our reading if we are seeking the whole truth in a story.
Our opinions are precious and should be developed through critical thinking -- weighing and evaluating the information we receive over time and through experience -- not through shallow means and marketing tools. Surely, Mary Benson did that, and you have that right, too. Some opinion pieces related to this topic have challenged us to find out on our own. That's right, but then in the next line, the authors imply that when we do so we will join them in their fight.
"She's doing the thing that I don't have the nerve to do." Her friend, Jan Kurtz, was quoted as saying, "She's representing all of us."
Yes, she has courage to stand up for her convictions, but I want to stand up and say, "Mary Benson does not represent me!"
I have voted in this republic for leaders who do represent me. It takes courage not only to protest and break laws but also to think beyond the sound bites that we are fed. It takes courage to slow down and ask questions before coming to conclusions. That's the part of the democratic process that brings about lasting change. Thinking takes time. Are we willing to make that sacrifice?
(Hirst is a member of The Dispatch's advisory board.)
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