On Friday evening, May 21, UncoverDC published an article I wrote based on the account of a restaurant manager in Amenia, New York, that struck people as being hard to believe, possibly false news. Being only 2 days after Gov. Cuomo’s sudden“ re-opening” of the Empire State, people were like prisoners hanging onto the bars, distrustful of hope. Then paranoia and hostility set in, like the Twilight Zone Episode of the neighbors who turned on each other, fearing a UFO was in the sky.
Nerves and relationships shattered. Tears and human interactions I am not at liberty to reveal, but if I did, you would see that we’ve drifted too far from the core mandate of the human race, which is solidarity. (A word I was taught as a young communist—yes, communist—in socialist Sweden.)
In all of it, and well aware this is all a preposterous exercise in time-waste, our story lands on what Snopes would call “MOSTLY TRUE.” Or “True but Containing a Few Question Marks We Can’t Straighten.”
Here’s the upshot:
- The NSLA [New York State Liquor Authority] told us they did not issue an edict for restaurants to take down signs.
- We learned they have been in touch with the manager since they were sent our story by another reporter who had neglected the sensitivity of the situation and reached out to NSLA without first trying to speak with Mr. Miller.
- When reached yesterday, NSLA confirmed to us that the restaurant remains in excellent standing and is not “in trouble.” (Mike Smith from the NSLA was not a petty bureaucrat, but quite decent.)
Here’s the twist, and why I said, “Mostly True:”
On May 24, I was at a restaurant in Litchfield, CT, 40 minutes from Amenia, at a place called DiFranco’s. Just like The Amenia Steak House, all masks were off, staff and patrons, and there were no mask signs anywhere. The owner and I were chatting, and I asked him if he had taken down his signs; He confirmed that he had. I asked when— he said May 19, the same day as Mr. Miller did, based on what he believed to be NSLA’s order. I asked if he got any edict from any government office. He said no, but rather, he had heard on TV, in news reports, that restaurant owners were “no longer required” to have signs up, so he took them all down.
“You’ve been vindicated,” said Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media studies and propaganda at NYU and a friend. I thought for a moment.
“It was true from another angle, harmonious with what was happening overall, but the original fact was wrong, or at least possibly wrong unless somebody from NSLA made a mistake,” I said. “It winds up all being moot since everybody’s signs are down if they want them to be, but this restaurant in Litchfield was totally relaxed about it. There were simply NO Covid vibes there. It was fully normal.”
“Connecticut follows New York,” the owner of DiFranco’s told me.
I draw the line at requesting a forensic examination of Mr. Miller’s emails and incoming calls.
“You were just trying to spread a little bit of hope,” my London-based friend Anna said when I shared my anxiety about possibly harming a person’s life with my reportage. “It’s time to jog on, my darling.”
“Covid” as we have all learned, painfully, has made people considerably less gracious, polite, and considerate of the feelings of others. A coarsening of a whole culture and people as happens in times of terror. My lesson was that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Or it’s true, but just can’t be proven true just yet.
My friend Peter Olsen in Sweden likes to say: “Everything is true, it just hasn’t happened yet.”
I like to say: “There can be sterile accuracies and fruitful errors.”
Journalists live in fear of being wrong factually, but rarely wrong human-ly. One should not publish precipitously if anything is in doubt, I suppose, but again, stories are alive; they keep moving, they take on new passengers as they go.
Tracy Beanz, Editor in Chief at UncoverDC, said: “Imagine if they could have applied this degree of fact-checking to Russiagate,” one of many stories she was vindicated on, rather thanklessly.
I tend to reach fast for branches of hope in the rushing rapids of misery. Now I feel like a moose in a small town who should have kept my head down.
But hear me out.
I come from a tradition of inspirational storytelling, with heroes, fighters, and kind people taking center stage. My father, who told such stories on the radio for 60 straight years, had a quip that will make J-School types reach for their stomach-settling tablets.
“Too many good stories are ruined by over-verification.”
We are tightly wound, humorless, expectant of ruin and persecution at all times after 13 months of this insanity.
I wish, before he died, I could have said to my father, whose name was Barry: “Daddy, we’re not journalists. We’re storytellers, minstrels. We paint people in words. Their hopes, dreams, vulnerabilities, efforts to triumph over evil. Until such time, God forbid, we can no longer discern the ‘human,’ in all of this.”