As a writer and someone who used to be employed as a media worker, all the recent hoopla about fake news feels terribly wrong. To point fingers and accuse entire news gathering organizations of being fake news is a bald attempt of censorship. Censorship runs against the grain of public ethics. It is the death knell of a democratic republic.
Suppression of information hearkens back to the days when despots stirred up mass anger to convert crowds into angry mobs replete with torches and pitchforks. Mobs are not rational nor reasonable. They are prone to willful ignorance.
There has been an insidious campaign against the media that has been incubating just beneath the surface for many years that is now exploding into blatant efforts to discredit honest journalism. Public figures who transform the term “mainstream Media” into an epithet seem to have ulterior motives for doing so. The unethical practice of “cherry picking” information comes to mind.
I’ve been involved in journalism in some way, shape, or form ever since I was a reporter for our junior high school’s monthly newspaper. I cut my teeth on “who, what, why, where, when, and how”. I learned early on the difference between news, and commentary or editorializing. That is news aims to inform as objectively as possible; commentary aims to influence as in-objectively as one can get away with. My junior high newspaper advisor reminded her pupils that news reporters should aim to never slant the news. If you want to slant your writing, you should become a commentator, not a reporter.
With that ideal in mind, censorship is a practice that is abhorrent to me. Even as a teen, I was turned off by the bowdlerized books that were assigned classroom reading. The stories seemed hollow and prissy. I sought out the uncensored versions whenever possible. This is why I find bowdlerized versions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to be gross disservices to literature.
I bring up the problem of censorship and bowdlerizing today because today is Bowdler’s Day. It is the birthday of Thomas Bowdler. Doctor Bowdler is noteworthy because he “sanitized” many of the works of William Shakespeare and even certain parts of the Christian Bible to remove words he judged to be offensive.
Bowdler is thought to be prudish because of his overly cautious editing of literature. He once wrote, “Those expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in the family.” He further stated this notion in his introduction to his own writing:
“I acknowledge Shakespeare to be the world’s greatest dramatic poet, but regret that no parent could place the uncorrected book in the hands of his daughter, and therefore I have prepared the Family Shakespeare.”
Certainly parents have the right to monitor what their children read. Such caution becomes censorship when children reach adulthood. In a society that values freedom and liberty, bowdlerism is subversive to the interests of democracy.
Today is the day to reflect upon bowdlerism and censorship and how it affects us as a society and personally. Today we ask ourselves if we want sanitized information or if we want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.