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The Power of Editing

The Power of Editing

By Randy Edwards

Few people are aware of the power of editing. One can easily take someone's words out of context to completely misrepresent their views. How easy is it to warp someone's words by selective editing? It's simple.

Recently I was the victim of editing to the point of blatant misrepresentation. The “Marshall Islands Journal” newspaper had extensively covered the closure of a public elementary school by a greedy landowner who wanted more rent from the school. (The Republic of the Marshall Islands still has a feudal system land ownership where land is owned by hereditary tribal chiefs and is rented to people building on or living on the land.)

The Marshall Islands' Journal did not take a position on this controversy, but at least they reported it. I wanted to applaud them for their coverage and to let them know that some of their readers realize the extent of the injustice that was going on. So I wrote them this letter:

To the Editor:

I found your Sep. 19th cover story (and previous articles) about the closure of Delap Elementary School (DES) and the landowner's demand for rent increases fascinating. The land ownership issue in the RMI is an amazing controversy to be witnessing in the 21st century.

European and Asian countries had their problems with unhealthy concentrations of land ownership and wealth during previous centuries. As those nations became more democratic, the concentration of land ownership changed -- sometimes democratically, sometimes simply by shooting the landowners. A big reason for these changes in Europe and Asia were not only because of the rise of democratic traditions, but also because economics demanded such a change. The old feudal-style land ownership patterns were not efficient in a modern economics-driven society.

This is why I find the RMI's land ownership situation so fascinating -- in some ways it's like a throwback to the middle ages. It's clear to me that the land ownership issue is a brake on economic development, but in the case of your Sep. 19th article, we have a wealthy minority who is simply threatening the public interest by forcing the closure of a school. It's baffling why the government doesn't invoke its right of eminent domain and act in the public's best interest.

But if you think about this from the landowner's viewpoint, it's entirely logical. Democratic nations have a built-in safety valve of limiting injustice and exploitation.

If DES succeeds in its mission of educating its Marshallese students, do we think an educated population in a democratic nation would tolerate the exploitation and warped development of the entire country, all to benefit a few wealthy landowners?

Of course not; the RMI's land ownership situation will change, sooner or later, just like European and Asian countries which had similar land-ownership systems. With such a future on the horizon, it's no wonder the landowner might want the school closed, if only to exploit the people for just a little while longer.

Regards,
.
Randy

It should be crystal clear from that letter that I'm solidly against the landowners' closing of the school. I say the present land ownership system is destined to fail, that I'm “baffled” why the government just doesn't seize the land with their right of eminent domain, and I call the landowners' actions blatant “exploitation” and wonder if they are closing the school to deliberately keep people ignorant so that they can continue to exploit them. I think I made my position very clear.

Yet what got printed into the newspaper? The newspaper printed a one-column “letter” which it highlighted with a lined box around the column, containing this:

I found your Sep. 19th cover story (and previous articles) about the closure of Delap Elementary School (DES) and the landowner's demand for rent increases fascinating. The land ownership issue in the RMI is an amazing controversy to be witnessing in the 21st century.

But if you think about this from the landowner's viewpoint, it's entirely logical.

That's it. Read the above two letters. The first letter is clearly against the landowners. The second letter uses my words but by selective editing, my position has been turned around 180 degrees -- the newspaper has me agreeing with the landowners!

Journalists tend to talk a lot about the integrity of their profession. Is the above an example of this professional integrity or of accuracy in reporting? No, it's not.

In my opinion, this is a hatchet job, an example of propaganda that would make a Nazi blush with envy. I don't know what the goal of the editors of the Marshall Islands Journal is, but in this case it clearly is not accurately representing what their reader's views are.

The Marshall Islands Journal likes to brag in its newspaper that it is the “world's worst newspaper.” I used to think that was just a sarcastic, self-demeaning joke. Now I know they were serious.