Smoke and Mirrors News Affecting Eugene

By: Jaelen Hodges

People make judgements about a lot of things without firsthand experience of them. It is something all humans do. If you were to ask me if I liked brussel sprouts, I would say no, despite the fact that I have never actually eaten one. I have been told they are disgusting by people I think of as reliable, and trust that brussel sprouts are just that: disgusting. Making judgements about vegetables is not the end of the world, but making judgements about real people and communities is a serious matter. Media outlets, like the news, have perhaps the greatest influence on how people perceive places and people they have never been to or met, and what they say can and has changed how the masses think about topics  they have little background knowledge of.

We live in the era of fake news. An era in which all facts heard or read on the news can simply be discredited if they do not agree with your point of view or political opinions. Yet, Eugene has been affected by a different type of news. One that is not necessarily fake, but certainly not the whole truth. One where facts are there, but twisted to create a false or partial picture. One Huffington Post reporter has referred to this kind of news as “smoke and mirrors” news, because the authors of these articles twist facts to create a more interesting story, and its effects are rapidly changing how people view our town.

In the past two weeks, an aspect of our community has been written about and portrayed to American and global readers in a way that qualifies it as smoke and mirrors news. The article in question “The Battle for Eugene,”  originated from the Daily Mail, the UK’s second most circulated daily newspaper, with more than 1.5 million subscribers. The article baits you to read it by stating “Chilling photos reveal how white supremacists have ‘taken over’ a once-liberal Oregon college town with hate crimes on the rise and swastikas plastered over the walls” in bold next to the title. The Daily Mail also has a channel on Snapchat Discover where I first saw this article. The Daily Mail Snapchat story averages around 1.7 million daily viewers and usually focuses on celebrity news, such as which Kardashian is pregnant and who wore what to the gym. However, on the morning of Dec. 31 I encountered something much different while clicking through celebrity gossip. I was greeted with a chilling story about my own hometown being “taken over” by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Screenshot of my phone

After my initial shock, I checked to make sure the Eugene they were writing about was indeed the same Eugene I live in, and unfortunately, it was. Although, after reading the article and doing some research about its origins, it became very clear the goal of the story was not to portray real problems of Eugene, but to create a manipulated version of the issue.

This article, which has been shared 4,600 times online, contains information on two so-called “prominent members” of our Eugene community, Jacob Laskey and Jimmy Marr. Marr, dubbed “Genocide Jimmy” by other white supremacists, spent Holocaust remembrance day flying Nazi flags and displaying a sign stating “Holocaust is Hokum” outside his Springfield home near an elementary school and public park. In similar horrifying fashion, Laskey has just recently been released from jail after 11 years behind bars for tossing swastika-etched bricks through windows of the Temple Beth Israel synagogue. The only other person mentioned by name in the article is Bethany Sherman, owner of a marijuana testing lab in Eugene, who allegedly baked weed infused cookies in the shape of swastikas on Hitler’s birthday.

South students who read the article were appalled by this story.

“My day turned from waking up in Florida enjoying my winter break, to wondering if my hometown had experienced a strange white supremacist takeover in the few days I had been gone,” junior Alex Karduna said. “I kept thinking about all the people I had met and told I was from Eugene, wondering if they would see the article and assume the worst about me.”

Originally, the pictures and ideas for the article came from the Oregonian, which ran an eye-opening story about Oregon’s very real racist past and how Trump’s presidency has emboldened white supremacists in Oregon, citing Laskey, Marr and Sherman as examples. Through smoke and mirrors news, the Daily Mail has painted a picture to the globe of a Twilight Zone version of Eugene. Scrolling through the comment section of the article goes to show how much this type of news can push people into forming opinions based on a twisted version of facts.

“What is their beef with the Jews?” asks JustaGirl27 from Cambridge, UK.

Similarly, chelsearesident from New York commented, “Wow, who would of ever thought Eugene, Oregon would host neo-nazis. I thought Eugene was as granola crunchy of a liberal town as could possibly exist, but apparently I was wrong.”

There are many more colorful comments I cannot include here. If you love being sad and disheartened, go to http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5224169/White-supremacists-liberal-Oregon-town.html#comments to read more.

All in all, yes, the Eugene-Springfield area has neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but to display the facts in the way that the Daily Mail article does has made people from around the globe hate our town for a small problem of an emboldened few. Additionally, I have always known that the news is powerful and that reporting needs to be truthful and unbiased, but until this Daily Mail article, I did not fully understand how easily bad reporting could tarnish the image of a community. It is scary to think about how 500 words has made someone 6,000 miles away have negative feelings about my hometown. One would hope that 350 years after the publishing of the first newspaper, reporters would have figured out how to create interesting stories that are completely true, but here we are. So I have a New Year’s resolution for the Daily Mail and all other news outlets: Please let 2018 be the year of fact checking your articles, because I really do not have time to anymore.

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