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Hundreds killed; perpetrator still at large…
Michael O'Casey
Michael O'Casey's View from the Riverbank

Last week I received and missed a call from Bret Kennedy somewhere around noontime on Tuesday, April 12. About midafternoon I called back, and he mentioned a Claxton Poultry chicken truck that had flipped over on Hwy 178 on the Georgia State Prison property.  

“I understand the driver of the truck was passing a farm tractor pulling a trailer, and a hog ran across the road in right front of the truck just as he cleared the tractor,” he said.  “The driver of the truck tried to dodge the hog and jackknifed, and the truck turned over.  They’ve been picking up dead chickens and catching live ones for most of the day. You can call Anthony Boyett; he saw if from start to finish.”

So I called Anthony (Abe) and he gave me an interesting and hair-raising account which involved three or four prison inmates who had a heart thumping experience they will remember for a lifetime as they saw the crash up close and personal.  After he finished, I told Abe he should have rubbed one of the inmates on the head for luck and bought a lottery ticket.  Course they probably used most of their luck since they were within a few seconds of being involved in the crash.

By the time I finished typing the story, the paper had been laid out, so it required an organizational shoehorn effort by editor Sarah Smith to get it in April 13th edition of the Journal Sentinel.

Thursday Brett called again obviously disappointed.  

“I was looking for a headline like “Hundreds killed; perpetrator still at large!” he said with a chuckle. “Isn’t that the way the media usually works?”

Point taken, and I certainly missed an opportunity to pop some eyes wide open before they read that the hundreds killed were chickens that were already on their way to an appointment with the grim reaper.  And unfortunately Bret is right; that is the way print, television, and social media often operate. Exaggeration creates interest.

That approach has pluses and minuses.  In Ukraine, the more dead bodies we see along with toddler shoes still attached to lifeless little corpses in still photos or videos, the more disgusted and angry we become toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin.  We are moved to provide more support for the heroic Ukrainians. The more destroyed homes we see in Pembroke and the Black Creek area, the more sympathetic we become which translates into financial assistance and sometimes direct labor to help our unfortunate neighbors in Bryan County get on their feet. 

The flip side of that coin is the increasing gun violence in our nation. Each time we see a shooting in a mall or some public place, it stimulates more crackpots to take stock of how much he has been wronged at work or school or his team didn’t win a coveted championship or countless other normal life experiences and decides to shoot some innocent victims to get even.  In a society where our lowest wage earners are better off than probably 75 percent of humanity on Planet Earth, we feel entitled to anything and everything we want, and someone must suffer if we don’t get it.

Two years ago, my nephew and his stepson were driving through Southwest Georgia and saw a huge mechanical cotton combine that was making its way across a field of what appeared to be more than 100 acres of cotton.  The 14 year-old stepson sighed and asked.  

“Can you imagine having to operate that machine all day long?”

With raised eyebrows, my nephew retorted.  

“Can you imagine picking cotton with your hands all day long for three pennies per pound?  My father and uncle did that for several weeks this time of the year when they were your age.”

Perhaps our journalistic approach should be modified.  Maybe for every starving child we see in Ukraine or Africa we should insert a photo alongside showing American kids wolfing a triple burger down at Mickey Ds or visiting Disney World.  

When we see a giant 8 row combine moving through agricultural fields turning bolls of cotton into huge round bales perhaps we should add a photo of slaves or sharecroppers bent double while extracting the cotton fibers from the sharp, prickly, dried bolls.  It might help us appreciate how far we’ve come and how fortunate we are.

On the other hand, probably not.  Cynics would call it “fake history…”