“This is America …” – a memorable observation, but it’s by Allen Ginsberg, as recounted by Mark Shields

January 18, 2011

Ah, the internet, so democratizing, yet so capable of the almost-instantaneous propagation of a non-fact, even with well meaning intentions.

Take this nugget going around Facebook yesterday and today like wildfire:

“This is America, where a white Catholic male Republican judge was murdered on his way to greet a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress, who was his friend. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year old Mexican-American gay college student, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon, all eulogized by our African American President.” ~Mark Shields, PBS

Except this is not a quote by Mark Shields, at least not exactly. He did say those words, but they were proceeded by a few others that are getting left out of the meme.

There was one observation that was made this week I just have to pass on to you by a friend of mine, Allen Ginsberg, who is an historian up in Maine. And he said, this week, we saw a white, Catholic, Republican federal judge murdered on his way to greet a Democratic woman, member of Congress, who was his friend and was Jewish. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year-old Mexican-American college student, who saved her, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon.

I found this out by going to the PBS web site and finding the transcript of the program where the words were uttered. Something all of us need to do more often, before making that too-easy click on “Share This.” (And, as I so often have to tell my email correspondents, just because an email forwarded from a trusted friend says that the content was checked at Snopes.com, it would behoove you to make sure before hitting ‘Forward’ yourself.)

A couple of months ago, a local school got tarred by an inaccurate or exaggerated accusation of GLBT discrimination because we (myself included) all jumped on the bandwagon of decrying the discrimination before we found out whether it was indeed true. It was a national scandal — those bigots in Oklahoma were at it again! It was on Daily Kos and countless other lefty blogs, sent out by Alternet, etc. etc. The Advocate deserves a lot of the blame for that, since it did some very poor (or you might say negligible) reporting on the matter, and silly readers thought they could trust a GLBT news magazine. I hope we all learned otherwise.

You know Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify” and that’s good advice. But we live in the fast food and quick copy age now, so let’s shorten that to “verify.”

In either version the quote recounted by Shields is wonderful, and I’m glad it’s getting shared widely, because this example of diversity, achievement and common cause is America. But I would prefer it get spread accurately. It’s too late, I fear, for this one to get corrected, but, while we are all committing ourselves, quite rightly, to more civil language, let’s also try to be more accurate.