‘We’ are not amused

Rappahannock News - - COMMENT - BY BEN JONES

Af­ter the mis­be­got­ten Bike Trail was no longer on the ta­ble and the VDOT grant re­jected by the Rap­pa­han­nock Board of Su­per­vi­sors, the Rap­pa­han­nock News pro­claimed with un­flinch­ing courage that “This news­pa­per has not taken a po­si­tion on the mer­its of the Schools (sic) Con­nec­tor, and we will not.”

A fear­less state­ment, given that there is no longer an is­sue upon which to take a po­si­tion.

That use of the “royal we” aka “the ed­i­to­rial we” speaks vol­umes about the dis­tance that the Rap­pa­han­nock News main­tains from the real heart­beat of our com­mu­nity. Hy­man Rick­over once said that only three types of in­di­vid­u­als were en­ti­tled to use that phrase: “The head of a sov­er­eign state, a schiz­o­phrenic, and a preg­nant woman.”

When “we” is used in this sense it is also called the “ex­clu­sive we,” which means the reader is not in­cluded as part of the “we.” This use of the “ex­clu­sive we” by the anony­mous ed­i­to­rial writer has the in­ten­tion of con­fer­ring upon him­self the stature of author­ity and su­pe­ri­or­ity.

That van­ity is off­putting even in ma­jor ur­ban news­pa­pers, but its use by the tiny weekly of our lit­tle ru­ral county is laugh­able. (“We” are laugh­ing at them, not with them.) Our pa­per, once a laid-back and ac­ces­si­ble read, has be­gun to take it­self far too se­ri­ously. Its cov­er­age of the Bike Trail saga was a turgid, byzan­tine, and a mostly in­com­pre­hen­si­ble strug­gle with the sim­ple rules of ob­jec­tive re­port­ing, and with the English lan­guage.

The con­clu­sions of the anony­mous “we” are also laugh­able. Had there not been vig­or­ous op­po­si­tion to this project “from the git-go,” an op­po­si­tion that was broad-based and rea­soned, the Ed­i­to­rial might make some sense. But it was never a pop­u­lar no­tion with the tax­pay­ers. (It im­me­di­ately cost one su­per­vi­sor his seat in last year’s lo­cal elec­tion). The BOS sup­port, which made the County (i.e., the tax­pay­ers) the guar­an­tors of the project, was made with­out a proper vet­ting of the Trail, and with­out the pub­lic hear­ings re­quired be­fore a vote was even con­sid­ered. It seemed to be on a very fast track, and many in the com­mu­nity felt they were be­ing “big­footed” by what one old-timer re­ferred to as the “high­brow” crowd.

There are ob­vi­ously lessons to be learned by all here, and the news­pa­per would do well to con­sider its part in this very real schism. Yes, there was vis­ceral anger on both sides. I was sub­jected to some of it my­self. Yet the ed­i­to­rial falsely calls out the op­po­nents of the trail as “self-ap­pointed van­guards,” en­gaged in some sort of rab­ble-rous­ing dem­a­goguery.

The hard-work­ing folks whose fam­i­lies have lived here for gen­er­a­tions are gen­er­ally soft-spo­ken. But when they feel like they are not be­ing lis­tened to, they will ul­ti­mately speak as loud as they need to un­til they are heard. And fi­nally they were heard. They said “no,” loudly and clearly.

New­com­ers, such as the own­er­ship of the Rap­pa­han­nock News who deign to morally in­struct the folks who were here when they ar­rived, are also guilty of be­ing “self-ap­pointed van­guards.”

Many in the com­mu­nity felt they were be­ing “big­footed” by what one old-timer re­ferred to as the “high­brow” crowd.

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