When I was in high school, Reagan was The President. Elected in my first year of junior high, Reagan was The Man, The Guy In Charge, whatever. In 1984, he instituted the “Adopt A School” program, which was designed to encourage various entities, from the military, to business, to government to “adopt” high schools around the nation to help the student body and make us better Americans.
In the case of my high school, Mills High, in Millbrae, California (a scenic suburb of San Francisco for those of you unfamiliar with this over-priced burg’s location) we were “adopted” by the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.
Now, for some of you this may be no big whoop, but for me, as a confirmed Star Trek Fan at the time, this had a hint of cool, even though it was part of a state-sponsored activity which I usually disdained. Hey! They even had the captain of the ship sign some big ol’ proclamation with us kids in a big ceremony. We even got to cut class to see it! Right on!
It was great. We were the Chosen Ones of our high school rivals. Now the problem was, once the big ceremonies were over, we got about as much benefit from our “adoption” from the Big “E” as we would have gotten from, say, any of a number of absentee parents out there in the 80s. In other words, zilch.
Which was fine – aircraft carriers are supposed to defend the United States as their primary duty. But as time went on most people forgot the whole thing even happened. In 1986, two years later, the Navy came to town for Fleet Week, complete with flying Blue Angels. The Big “E” was in town too.
Since this was the case, I figured that we’d have something, anything to do with the ship since they were in town. Now, I suppose if I was a writer in the 21st Century, I’d just make something up and put it on a website, without much regard for what was true or not. But this was the 80s and technology and times were different. So I began making some calls.
I called the school. Everyone I could think of that would know something. Nothing.
I called the ship (yes really). Nothing.
I called the United States Navy in Washington D.C. They had no idea what I was talking about.
After a week of running up a nice long distance bill, I was at my wit’s end. Here I was, putting in way too much work onto something that surely no one would read anyway – I was just a kid in high school writing for his paper right? So I wrote a story about my travails (well written for a 17 year old) and posted a picture of the ship with the title “Big “E” MIA?” and detailed all the research I’d done.
It got a laugh from the five nerds who read the paper, and I figured that was the end of that. But I was wrong.
That’s because unlike most high school papers, ours, The Thunderbolt, was not distributed on campus. In a bid to raise ad revenues, it was decided to mail the paper home directly to students’ homes, and then use the demographics of the Burlingame/Millbrae neighborhood to sell ads that would reach the kids’ parents. It kind of worked. It was also mailed out to other schools, other administrators.
Even the school district’s Board of Trustees.
So, when I was reading the district’s latest published Board of Trustees minutes (believe it or not) I got to a section featuring a request from our school’s principal. He was asking for some lengthy paid vacation time to go to an airshow, and cited the school’s involvement with the USS Enterprise as a main reason for justifying his trip.
In the minutes (which I am sure I have somewhere) the president of the board pulled out a copy of the Thunderbolt and proceeded to cite my article. Right in the middle of the school board meeting. In front of EVERYONE there. The principal’s request was denied.
When I read this, I was really surprised. Someone read my article! Then I began to worry – after all I’d pretty much pissed off the principal of the school. However, I was able to say with tremendous certainty that I’d done my research, and had the phone bill and the notes to prove that what I’d said was true – and that I’d done everything I could to find out what was really going on – instead of making up something just to be snarky or “cool.”
Despite a few nasty glances from said principal, I made it out of school just fine. More importantly that’s when I realized the impact of the printed word had on real people, in the real world. It also made me realize just how important it was to try and do one’s best when one writes about a person or a subject – a lazy or intentionally harmful piece of print could really hurt someone.
Thus, when I read about the miserable failings of the New York Times with their war coverage, read about the trail of lies surrounding the non-story regarding John Kerry’s personal life and read in interviews that some bloggers are more concerned with clever little headlines than actually discussing something thats real, it gets a tad frustrating.
The post-truth era makes everything unbelievable, and the falsehoods piled on top of double entendres, and the discussion of what “is” is make it hard to know what is really going on, and what is not. At least it makes for catchy headlines! Right?
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com
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