Today’s papers and morning radio news had updates of Covid-19 and widespread protests against systemic racism (and counter protests). Two seemingly unrelated offerings on a quiet inside page of the Berkshire Eagle were at least inadvertently about both things as well as attacks in the United States nearly 19 years ago.
In one, headed “It’s time to open up,” syndicated columnist Curtis Honeycutt begins, “I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit of a volcano when it comes to feelings and emotions.”
The other page B2 item, by the late Thomas O. Morton, is under the headline: “GE engineers put on spectacular show re-enacting Franklin’s kite experiment.”
Morton was at a 1952 media event at General Electric’s “high-voltage laboratory here in Pittsfield — the world’s largest man-made lightning center” in which engineers “had an enjoyable two hours playing Benjamin Franklin….
”For the benefit of TV, newsreel and press service cameras they hurled 6,000,000-volt lightning bolts at a kit to present the first successful re-enactment of Franklin’s experiment to prove lightning is a form of electricity.”
The reporter quotes from the company’s news release about the demonstration, prepared well in advance, and shows how some facts on the ground differed from what the news release depicted. The engineers’ second try “made the cameramen very happy.”
Together, the two page B2 items (a link to the second will be added when it becomes available) are relevant to all three 21st-century historical events.
* Honeycutt, perhaps intentionally, illustrates the anger being played out around the world over racist policies and denial thereof. He may also be commenting that Americans have had it up to here with President Trump’s responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
* Morton relates how GE engineers, on the 200th anniversary of Franklin’s lightning experiment, put on an imperfect show, then quickly repeated it to gibe with the company’s prepared news release so the visuals would play for moviegoers watching it in newsreels as well as for viewers in living rooms watching it on black-and-white TVs. The science was sound, the staging—initially—was off.
* Together, the two writers demonstrate the power of narrative and the dangers inherent in decisionmakers’ wrong decisions, which can include efforts to pull the wool over the public’s eyes and even pulling it over their own eyes. The results can be volcanic, and electrifying.
In the case of the U.S. government Executive Branch’s science-defying narrative about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on that day and many, many more later in the United States and in wars abroad, the international revulsion over the mass murder may be magnified by the U.S. government’s coverup combined with years of compliance by virtually all news media in going along with it.
Like the GE lightning show, the attacks of September 2001 were, among other things, a “spectacular show,” made for TV consumption. Whoever was primarily responsible and however they did it, various pieces of the truth have been moving the tectonic plates of public conscious for nearly two decades, leading to … what?
Talk about a can of worms.
— Mark Channing Miller