November 14, 2016
Today, our nation votes for a new president. Here, a senate seat, several local officers, and a poorly veiled referendum will be decided as well. I took my sixteen-year-old to witness the voting process, as I have since she was small. She will be eligible to vote soon, just like her idealistic college-age sister.
Then there’s my nineteen-year-old. My Bear. She is biologically eligible to vote, yet because of her mental impairments, I hesitated when it came to registration. She and I talked long and hard about the state of the country and the candidates. We discussed the duties and importance of the offices. She twirled her hair, overwhelmed. When I studied communications in college years ago, I wore journalistic integrity like a mantle. I secured a job as a correspondent for a local Gannet publication, and for every assignment, I kept distance and perspective. I took to heart Joe Friday’s words, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”
Through diligence I scored a big assignment, much different from my normal fare of local water and school board meetings. The paper assigned a photographer, and I presented my newly-printed press pass at a political rally. After gathering interviews and information, I spent hours creating my article.
I felt confident as I presented it to the editor, but his scowl surprised me. “No, no, no, this won’t do.” He removed a red pen from his pocket and began scratching notes in the margins and slashing portions of my piece. “Begin here. This is your leading statement.”
My brow crinkled with concern. “Wait. Doesn’t changing it that way mislead the reader? The emphasis minimizes the other, stronger points of the rally.”
He lowered his glasses and fixed me with a cold stare. “That’s our paper’s stance, and if you don’t like it, you can peddle your words elsewhere.”
We continued to discuss the news story, and with his every comment, I realized his agenda would be presented, though it did not represent what I witnessed. I backed away from his desk, shocked. My belief in journalistic ethics felt naïve, and I no longer wanted to be associated with journalism. Every news story I read thereafter had a slant, I knew. Some editor or reporter who injected their personal feelings into the piece as surely as they crafted the eye-catching headline.
This year, Bear’s specialized school encouraged her to register and vote. I helped her fill out the required paperwork and investigated the assistance available to disabled voters. It surprised me to discover I could enter the booth and help her cast her vote.
If I were an unscrupulous person, I could influence her opinion and even override her vote in the election booth itself. The discovery felt like standing at the edge of my old editor’s desk. The possibility of fraud and abuse shook me.
I explored my motivations and examined my presentation of information, careful to remain impartial when talking about the election. In my heart, I know I did nothing to sway my child in her decisions, and when she voted, her voice rang true. She told me the “I voted” sticker was her favorite part of the experience.
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