Monday, November 30, 2020

Being Fair to the Facts

I just read a newspaper article that really irritated me. It was about a social studies teacher who was familiarizing his students with how American elections worked. Nothing unusual there-- I studied that back when I was in high school, five decades ago. But when he told his students that Joe Biden had won the 2020 election (a well-documented fact), many of his students got upset with him. They began telling him about election fraud, about corrupt voting machines, that thousands of dead people had voted, plus there were illegal ballots; and above all, Joe Biden couldn't possibly have won because he stole the election from President Trump. 

Needless to say, the teacher was not amused, but he wasn't entirely shocked. Living in a red state, he knew that students heard these sorts of things at home. Plus, given the world of social media, it was all too easy for students to encounter many inaccurate claims. As a teacher, he was known for being non-partisan; thus, he figured his job was to correct the kids-- and to show them fact-checking sites that refuted their assertions. Over all, he just wanted his students to know what happened, no matter which party won. So, he showed them how votes are tabulated, who counts them, the safeguards in the system, and why their assertions were inaccurate. And he told them that in the 2020 election, Mr. Biden had received more votes-- both electoral votes and popular votes. 

But that did not satisfy his students. They kept defending the president, and repeating what he had said. They kept insisting that there was "massive fraud," that Pres. Trump had been robbed, and that he had actually won.  And then, some irate parents began complaining about the teacher; one parent even demanded that their kid be taken out of the teacher's class immediately. In other words, the parents wanted the teacher to stop telling students anything that contradicted what the president was saying-- even if those claims were false.

If you were teaching those students, what would you do? I've heard versions of this story from a number of teachers, all of whom were advised not to be "controversial" and not to teach anything that students (or their parents) would perceive as partisan. But that seems like an impossible task, since no matter what a teacher might say, there is someone who is bound to be offended. And in this case, things are complicated by the constant presence of Mr. Trump, continuing to assert that he was robbed, continuing to stir up his supporters, and continuing to cast doubt on the election (and on the electoral process).      

I have been very disappointed that this president persists in spreading baseless accusations. He has every right to be upset that he lost, but the fact remains: he lost. And spreading misinformation on partisan TV channels and websites is horrible for our democracy.  I hope he will concede, as others have done before him. And I hope he will admit there was no fraud and no cheating-- there was simply the fact that someone else won the election. Meanwhile, all over the country, teachers and professors are left to pick up the pieces, as Mr. Trump tries to make his own ego feel good, while doing real damage to the public's faith in our democracy. Conservative media are also being very unhelpful by giving Mr. Trump's false claims a place to be heard: yes, their audience loves it, but again, the harm to our democracy could be lasting.  

I don't know when it became controversial to teach that the person who got more votes was the winner of the election. There have been many times over the years when I couldn't believe that candidate X didn't win and candidate Y did... but I was never tempted to deny reality or avoid telling my students what the facts were (whether I liked those facts or not).  2020 has been a brutal year in numerous ways, and I am one of many who won't be sorry to see it go. But I hope we can also put an end to the ongoing effort by this president and his enablers to insist that facts are not facts, and to insist that only Mr. Trump's version of the truth is what matters. It doesn't. He lost. I understand he wishes that he won. But he didn't. And it's time for him to accept that fact, so the rest of us can move on. 


Sunday, November 15, 2020

"What Are They Really Like?"

Periodically, Rush fans reach out to me on social media, and I always try to respond. Some of them seem to only want to thank me, or to express their love of this band that changed so many people's lives. But every now and then, someone asks me a specific question about Alex or Geddy or Neil-- does Geddy have a favorite song out of all the ones Rush sang over the years; or what did the other two guys think of Alex's "blah-blah-blah" speech at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; or why wasn't Neil at the vast majority of the meet-and-greets over the years.  

Sometimes, I know the answer, especially if one of the guys expressed an opinion (I do know the back-story to the blah-blah-blah speech, and I do know why Neil avoided meet-and-greets).  And sometimes, I have no idea but can make an educated guess (I don't think Geddy has ever had one favorite Rush song; but I'm sure that the band got tired of playing certain songs, and like most bands, they retired some of them and reintroduced others over the years, just to give the fans some variety).

But the most common question I get asked is a version of "What are they really like?" It's an interesting question. I spent four decades in broadcasting, and during that time, I met a lot of celebrities and stars-- Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, Madonna, Dolly Parton, Bob Seger, Garth Brooks, Linda Ronstadt, Charlie Daniels, ZZ Top, Dr. Hook, and many others. My interactions with them were usually brief: in radio back then, the record companies would often bring the performers around for deejays at major stations to meet. I generally got to say hello and maybe exchange a few words before the record promoter interrupted and took the person to say "hi" to some other people.  Some of the performers were very friendly and seemed happy to meet me (and the others at my station). Others treated it like a chore or acted like they were doing us a big favor just being there. 

In a very few cases, I actually got some time to have a conversation before the performer had to move on.  I had a very pleasant chat with Bruce Springsteen (we shared an orange juice), and an equally pleasant one with Frank Beard of ZZ Top (he asked me out...I politely said 'no').  I also had some wonderful conversations with jazz musicians like Phil Woods (he did the sax solo on Billy Joel's pop hit "Just the Way You Are") when I worked at WRVR in New York, a jazz station. I could drop a few more names, but my point is that while I have a lot of good memories, I don't know how to answer the question about what any of them were "really" like.

All I can say is that at a certain time, under certain conditions, I had the privilege of being in the same room, or at the same party, or perhaps I was doing an interview; but in all cases, the context was that I was a radio deejay and music director, and the performer was there to promote a new album or make an appearance as part of some event the record company arranged. And yes, it was exciting for me, a working-class kid who had often been told she'd never be anything in life, to be hanging with the rich and famous, even briefly. 

So, I do understand why fans ask what some famous person is really like. We see these folks on TV or read about them, or maybe go to a concert and watch them perform. But we rarely get the chance to spend time with them, away from work. Given that many of us don't get to meet our favorites celebrities, or perhaps we only see them briefly and get an autograph, we imagine what they must be like, and when we find someone who actually knows them, we just have to ask. (I admit I've done this myself over the years.)

But in the case of Rush, I can give you an answer.  I'm fortunate that they've kept in touch over the years (and so have the folks at their management company), even though we're no longer colleagues in the music business. That in itself is unusual: normally, when you're in media, relationships can be transactional. You need something from them, or they need something from you. But in a very few cases, there is no agenda, just some nice people who want to keep in touch because that's what nice people do. What are Rush "really" like? Based on my experience over the decades, they truly are nice people; and as I've said many times, success has never spoiled them. And while I can't say what every famous person I've met is really like, I can say with certainty that the members of Rush are in fact wonderful to know, and I consider it an honor to know them.