Andrew Fiala

Grizzlies’ video controversy is a symptom of the ills plaguing social-media culture

A baseball team, patriotism, Ocasio-Cortez and an apology: Here’s what happened

The Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball team played a Memorial Day video on its scoreboard May 27, 2019, and later apologized for equating Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with Kim Jung-un and Fidel Castro.
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The Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball team played a Memorial Day video on its scoreboard May 27, 2019, and later apologized for equating Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with Kim Jung-un and Fidel Castro.
On Memorial Day the Fresno Grizzlies showed a video with an image of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wedged between images of Kim Jong Un, Fidel Castro, and black-clad Antifa protestors. The patriotic voice-over from Ronald Reagan talked about fighting “the enemies of freedom.”

It is outrageous to compare a U.S. congresswoman to a North Korean despot. But these are outrageous times. People are talking about impeachment, treason, and coups. Only 20% of Americans approve of what Congress is doing, according to a recent Gallup poll. The Pew Center reports that only 17% trust the government.

The Grizzlies video is a symptom of our discordant and dysfunctional era. In fact, the explanation of how the video was chosen points to the heart of the problem. The Grizzlies explained that no one on the staff had watched the whole three-and-a-half-minute video before playing it.

This is typical of the Twitter era. We skim and skip. We throw words around. We can’t spare a few minutes for critical thinking. This leaves us vulnerable to manipulation.

The video in question is a piece of propaganda. You can watch it online. A bit of research locates the words in the video in Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address. But careful reading demonstrates that Reagan’s original speech is mixed up and re-edited.

This is similar to so-called deep fake videos. Last week a video of Nancy Pelosi was slowed down in a way that made her sound drunk. Anyone with a computer can alter a video, a speech, or an image. It is often difficult to distinguish the original from the adulterated.

These re-edits confuse and manipulate. Reagan’s actual speech began by celebrating the peaceful transition of power that is the bulwark of our democratic process. He offered sincere thanks to former President Jimmy Carter. Of course, this conciliatory gesture did not make the cut.

The video edit also left out Reagan’s small government ideology. He said, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” This Reagan mantra is one source of our ongoing distrust of government. Reagan’s legacy is complex, not easily reduced to a soundbite.

Andrew Fiala Fresno Bee file

In his real speech Reagan referred to entrepreneurs and factory workers as heroes. This part was edited in the video to make it sound like Reagan was speaking of soldiers. He did talk about the sacrifice of soldiers. But the edit leaves out all of what Reagan says about the quiet patriotism of the toiling masses.

The video also leaves out Reagan’s call for compassion. In an omitted sentence he said, “How can we love our country and not love our countrymen, and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they are sick, and provide opportunities to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?”

There was more in Reagan’s speech about religion and foreign policy. But the point of the speech was to lay out a vision of a united and hard-working America. The Memorial Day edit misses all of this. And the images of Ocasio-Cortez turn Reagan’s words into a partisan attack.

Reagan would likely not approve of AOC’s ideas. But the problem is that Reagan’s words have been manipulated. Ocasio-Cortez has also been transformed into a scapegoat.

This is only the most recent manifestation of the iceberg of incivility that is threatening public discourse. Words and images are engineered and adulterated. It is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. We mock and malign. We twitter and click. And we rarely take the time to think carefully.

The solutions are obvious and old-fashioned. We need information literacy. We also need to slow down and sober up. Do the research. Check the primary sources. Avoid insults and cheap shots. Choose words wisely. Get a second opinion. Ask critical questions. And when something goes wrong, fix it, apologize and make amends.

We should also take to heart Reagan’s words of reconciliation. Patriotism must be open-hearted. If we love our country, we should love our countrymen (and women). That means we must stop scapegoating and name-calling. We should “just say no” to incivility and partisan propaganda. We must embrace the task of thinking and the call of compassion.

Andrew Fiala is a professor of philosophy and director of The Ethics Center at Fresno State: @PhilosophyFiala