Some backlash against Oberlin, where 90 percent of voters sided with Hillary Clinton on Election Day, was expected.
I left our newsroom a couple of hours after President-elect Donald Trump’s victory speech, knowing the next morning would find the city harassed for its liberalism — and it didn’t take long to be proven correct.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks: First came the righteous outrage over American flags hung upside-down outside several Oberlin schools in an apparent “the ship is sinking” distress signal over the election’s outcome. Then I watched as two white men in a passing pickup truck shouted, “F—k Hillary, Trump’s coming for you,” at mostly-black protesters outside Gibson’s Bakery. Then came a note terrorizing an Oberlin College professor and his family, saying, “Gas, Jews, Die.”
There is no question that after eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, there is sublimated anger from a large, conservative fraction of the country that has felt left behind. Now many feel suddenly unfettered by the complete Republican takeover of the executive and legislative branches. They’ve chosen a puppy to kick: I’ve overheard a few gush about celebrating the impending Trump presidency by “putting those college kids in their place.”
The most recent outpouring of that anger came Tuesday night and Wednesday morning as social media users again attempted to burn Oberlin in effigy.
This time, they circulated a photo that appeared to show the rainbow flag, the symbol embraced by LGBTQ people, flying above the American and Ohio flags on the corner of Tappan Square. “Everyone call the city & complain! I’m an Oberlin resident, i don’t pay my taxes to allow this BS!” one woman posted on our Facebook page.
The only problem is that the photo was faked.
I drive by Tappan every day on my way to work. There isn’t one pole with many flags — there are several poles, each with their own flags. The way the picture was shot tells a lie.
The photo was taken from a specific place and angle that created the illusion of the Stars and Stripes being flown below the rainbow flag. It’s made to look like a showing of disrespect, as well as a violation of the U.S. Flag Code (which isn’t law, by the way; federal courts have repeatedly ruled it is only a guide to etiquette and does not supercede the First Amendment).
I took a camera and hoofed it to the corner to debunk the faux photo. It wasn’t hard.
Then I called Amherst city councilman Phil Van Treuren. A Republican with a wide Facebook following — about 67,000 people — he had shared the misleading photo, writing angrily about the disrespect he felt Oberlin College had showed by demoting the U.S. flag (he was also wrong to point a finger at the college, since the city maintains the flags).
Van Treuren removed his post when enough folks pointed out the photo was misleading. “I thought at first glance it was an accurate picture,” he told me later, adding, “Maybe alarm bells should have gone off, but they didn’t, frankly.”
At worst, the incident shows an attempt to outright lie as a way of demonizing liberalism. At best, it’s an example of irresponsible rage-sharing on social media, letting confirmation bias be the guide and failing to check the facts before passing the lie along.
Is this what political discourse has become? What happened to great debates where facts and informed opinions were the rule? What happened to eloquence? What happened to our ability to police nonsense?
We can be better than this.
Jason Hawk | Civitas Media Taken from a certain angle, this photo tells a lie and shows the LGBTQ rainbow flag flying over the American flag. Take two steps to the right and the misleading illusion is dispelled.