The Hunt For Disabled Hillbillies
Posted on 10.07.17 by Danny Glover @ 6:34 pm

Every now and then, journalists in the big city get the urge to head for the hills of West Virginia and hunt stereotypes. They always find their prey. Then they tell stories that misrepresent the reality of life for most West Virginians.

You can call it Hatfields-and-McCoys journalism because the tradition is at least that old. The latest installment comes courtesy of The Washington Post, which sent a reporter hunting for hillbillies as part of the paper’s series on Social Security Disability Insurance.

I have no gripe with the topic. It’s worthwhile to shine a light on the Supplemental Security Income system because of its cost and susceptibility to fraud and abuse. I also have no problem with West Virginia being part of the story because 4 percent of West Virginians get SSI benefits — more than any other state, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. One in five working-age residents in Logan County, which the Post visited, are among them.

What galls me are the predictably cliched portrayals of country folk, and they start with the opening anecdote about digging roots from the hills for money: “For the people of the hollow, opportunity begins where the road ends.”

The implication is that the anecdote represents the norm — not just in that hollow but in all of Logan County and the entire state. Poverty reporter Terence McCoy made that point clear a few paragraphs later when he added, “In West Virginia, getting by means digging roots in the mountains.”

No, it doesn’t! Maybe it’s OK to spout that kind of nonsense when writing the script for a reality television show like “Appalachian Outlaws,” but it’s bad journalism.

I spent most of my first 24 years in the Mountain State and still visit regularly, and the only person I ever knew who dug roots was my paternal grandfather. And he did it as much for the thrill of hunting ginseng, a rare find in his part of the state, as for the money.

Most West Virginians who fall on hard times don’t dig roots to “get by”; they turn to family for support. That’s a bit harder to do when multiple family members are on the government dole and/or are estranged from each other. The Post found a family like that not because it’s the norm but because it fit the false image that urban elites have of the state.

That’s also why the Post repeatedly called attention to the fact that Donna Jean Dempsey, the main character in its tale, lives in a rundown shack without running water. It’s mentioned twice in the story and in two separate photo captions.

The photos further reinforce the ridiculous perceptions that prim-and-proper journalists tend to have of West Virginians. The portraits include: a woman who wears the same filthy flannel and blue jeans for a week; a shirtless, bushy-bearded Bubba sitting on a porch; and a gaunt mountain man who relies on oxygen after five heart attacks and two strokes.

Then there is the closing anecdote. Having survived to another SSI payday, Dempsey treated herself to three six-packs of beer at the local dollar stores. McCoy milked that development for all it was worth, characterizing it as “the best moment of the month” for Dempsey.

“She lit a cigarette, stretched out her legs and opened a beer,” he wrote. And then a few sentences later: “She looked down at her beer and thumbed its lid. She took a sip. The moment could last a while longer, she decided.”

Save for a trip to the still and Dempsey sipping from a moonshine jug, he couldn’t have asked for a better redneck ending to this chapter of yellow journalism about West Virginia.


Filed under: Government and History and Human Interest and Media and People and Photography and Rednecks and West Virginia
Comments: None

John E. Kenna Was No Robert E. Lee
Posted on 08.27.17 by Danny Glover @ 2:57 pm

West Virginia doesn’t have a “Confederate statue” inside the U.S. Capitol, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the reports of historically ignorant journalists in Washington.

In their rush to pile onto the growing pile of maligned Confederate statues, the media recently set their sights on the National Statuary Hall Collection. What better place to prop up more straw men for knocking down than in a building with 100 famous statues?

This particular angle to the debate over the Confederacy piqued my interest when I first saw it in The Washington Post because the disparity appeared egregiously unjust at face value. “The U.S. Capitol has at least three times as many statues of Confederate figures as it does of black people,” blared the ridiculously long but seemingly fact-based headline.

The problem is that readers can’t take anything the media report these days at face value, especially when it involves an explosive topic like race. Many journalists are hard-wired to assume that racism exists whenever outrage about it grows loud enough. And they have no interest in digging deep into a story line if their research might undermine their assumptions.

So it is with the attack on “Confederate statues.”

The contempt implied in the loaded phrase may make sense when the focus is on prominent rebels like Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Vice President Alexander Stephens and Gen. Robert E. Lee. But as a native of West Virginia, I grew suspicious of the coverage when I saw in the Post a map of states with supposedly Confederate statues.


A state riven by war
Anyone who actually knows history knows that West Virginia became a state when the North illegally ripped 50 counties from Virginia’s boundaries during the Civil War. West Virginia created five more counties after the war, naming two of them after President Abraham Lincoln and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, heroes of the Union.

I didn’t immediately reject the idea that elected leaders in West Virginia could have chosen to memorialize a Confederate with one of its two monuments at the Capitol. After all, 18,000 West Virginians fought for the Confederacy.

West Virginia’s Capitol also is home to a statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. At the statue’s dedication in 1910, the United Daughters of the Confederacy called Jackson “the greatest and most illustrious man ever born on the soil of West Virginia, a typical soldier, patriot and Christian.”

Union troops, on the other hand, weren’t recognized with the Mountaineer Soldier statue for two more years, and a prominent memorial to Lincoln didn’t appear until 1974.

But it still seemed odd that a state formed in the Civil War would have recognized a Confederate leader in the U.S. Capitol. With that history in mind, I turned to a remarkable storehouse of information called the Internet for answers.
(more…)


Filed under: Government and History and Media and News & Politics and People and West Virginia
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The Two-edged Online Tongue
Posted on 08.04.17 by Danny Glover @ 9:19 pm

The story about the couple who ruined a wedding photographer’s reputation is troubling for many reasons, but one that jumped out in The Washington Post’s coverage is a subtle quote that speaks volumes about the Internet’s ability to empower malicious arrogance: “She’s a blogger. Make sure everything looks perfect.”

The photographer said that about her new client before she ever worked for the woman because she understood all too well the influence of a blogger scorned. Her words are the digital upgrade (or should I say downgrade?) to the adage about never arguing with a man who buys ink by the barrel.

The difference is that in the bygone era when newspapers mattered, most journalists who worked at papers still had editorial checks that prevented egregious abuses. Bloggers have no such restraints. Neither do YouTube or Instagram celebrities. Even average Joes and Janes with a twisted talent for riling the masses into a bout of public shaming can do great damage to an undeserving person’s reputation.

And the scarlet letter is now a scarlet alphabet. From A to Z, any whiff of imagined wrongdoing along the spectrum of “sin” is justification for humiliation — especially if exposing it online might bring a cruel blogger fame or fortune.

I am the guy who once penned what a colleague called an opus to the awesome power of blogs and who co-authored essential guides to Pinterest and Twitter. Teaching people how to use social media for good was my job, so the irony of now decrying the equally destructive power of blogs is not lost on me.

But such is the nature of the two-edged online tongue.


Filed under: Blogging and Media and News & Politics and People and Social Media and Technology
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The Myth Of The Impala Mama
Posted on 02.18.17 by Danny Glover @ 1:50 pm

Finnish photographer Alison Buttigieg loves cats. The Internet loves cats. But these days Buttigieg hates the Internet because it’s lying about one of her cat photos.

It all started Feb. 11. Someone who knows her work as a wildlife photographer recognized a cheetah picture of hers online. That wasn’t necessarily a surprise  —  Buttigieg published the “remarkable” photo on her blog, Facebook and Instagram last November after it won an international award. But the flood of messages that started pouring in from strangers that day stunned her.

An intellectual property thief had stolen her photo, invented a feel-good back-story for it, and engineered a viral sensation  —  one that wasn’t exactly flattering to Buttigieg. The tall tale portrayed the three cheetahs in the photo as heartless killers, their impala prey as a self-sacrificial mother and Buttigieg as a fragile soul who sank into depression after documenting a feline feast.

“In the beginning I thought it was absolutely hilarious, even the trolling,” she told me in an email interview six days after the hoax spread. “But then it was suddenly really overwhelming when I realized there wasn’t much I could do.”

Buttigieg is an information technology consultant whose passion for animals and for wild places inspired a foray into photography. She has carried a camera on wildlife journeys around the world for 13 years and started taking the photographic aspect of her observations more seriously about four years ago.

“I see my photos as a means to spread awareness about wildlife and the need to protect them and their habitat,” she said.

Buttigieg has shot pictures on three continents  —  Africa, Asia and South America. Her favorite places include Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Botswana and South Africa, and the Massai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. In September 2013, she was near the latter location, at the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, when she saw a family of cheetahs trap a lone impala.

Cats of all kinds fascinate Buttigieg because of their beauty and expressive faces. Cheetahs stand out in the felidae species for their speed, quirks and sounds. The guides at the conservancy knew she loved cheetahs, and a mother and two adolescents were near the camp during her visit.

Read the rest of the story at Medium.


Filed under: Blogging and Human Interest and People and Photography and Social Media and Technology and Travel and Wildlife
Comments: 1 Comment

OneFootWandering Through Life On Instagram
Posted on 01.19.17 by Danny Glover @ 6:16 pm

This is one photo of many posted by a young woman who had to have her foot amputated because of cancer. She kept the foot and now takes it with her as she journeys through Instagram life under the moniker “OneFootWander.”

A photo posted by cancer foot (@onefootwander) on

Kristi Loyall explained the idea behind the foot and how it has helped her cope:

It was my cousin’s friend’s idea. They messaged me on Facebook and said they had an idea that I should start an Instagram for my foot. I wanted to do it to make other people and myself laugh.

I was excited when 100 people were following my foot. A lot of people have left positive and kind comments. I didn’t really expect that. It actually made me feel better about my situation. It’s made my outlook on life more positive. I used to be kind of pessimistic.

She has one twisted sense of humor. I like it.


Filed under: Just For Laughs and People and Photography and Social Media and Technology
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Katherine Johnson: A W.Va. Success Story
Posted on 01.17.17 by Danny Glover @ 8:13 pm

My wife and I watched the movie “Hidden Figures” over the weekend, and the best part was discovering that one of the three main characters, Katherine Johnson, is a West Virginia native.

Here’s what WVU Magazine had to say in a story about Johnson and other “Barrier Breakers“:

You’ve likely heard about the new biographical drama film ‘Hidden Figures,’ about a team of three black female mathematicians who helped calculate flight trajectories for groundbreaking space projects, including the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon.

The leader of the group was White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., native Katherine Johnson, also the first black woman to desegregate graduate studies at WVU in 1938. At the time, she was one of three black students, and the only female, to attend graduate studies at WVU following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that required public universities to accept black graduate students if similar courses weren’t available at black colleges.

Although her stay at WVU was brief – she spent just one summer here – Johnson was awarded an honorary degree from the university in 2016 and is widely acclaimed as an American space pioneer. In 2015, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the president. Following a historic career with NASA, Johnson, now 98, lives in Newport News, Va.”

I love learning the stories of famous West Virginians, especially those whose successes shatter the stereotypes of the great Mountain State as the land of hillbillies, rednecks and rubes. You can learn more about Johnson via NASA, which ended its story about her by saying, “Not bad, for a little girl from West Virginia.”

Here’s what President Obama had to say about Johnson when awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, followed by the text of the award citation:

Growing up in West Virginia, Katherine Johnson counted everything. She counted steps. She counted dishes. She counted the distance to the church. By 10 years old, she was in high school. By 18, she had graduated from college with degrees in math and French. As an African-American woman, job options were limited — but she was eventually hired as one of several female mathematicians for the agency that would become NASA.

Katherine calculated the flight path for America’s first mission in space, and the path that put Neil Armstrong on the moon. She was even asked to double-check the computer’s math on John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth. So if you think your job is pressure-packed, hers meant that forgetting to carry the one might send somebody floating off into the Solar System. In her 33 years at NASA, Katherine was a pioneer who broke the barriers of race and gender, showing generations of young people that everyone can excel in math and science, and reach for the stars.

Citation: With her razor-sharp mathematical mind, Katherine G. Johnson helped broaden the scope of space travel, charting new frontiers for humanity’s exploration of space, and creating new possibilities for all humankind. From sending the first American to space to the first moon landing, she played a critical role in many of NASA’s most important milestones. Katherine G. Johnson refused to be limited by society’s expectations of her gender and race while expanding the boundaries of humanity’s reach.


Filed under: Government and History and Movies and People and Technology and Video and West Virginia
Comments: None

Elite America’s Irrational Fear Of Rednecks
Posted on 01.13.17 by Danny Glover @ 8:01 pm

Some Americans are so irrational that they fear fellow humans just because they work in blue-collar jobs or like the National Rifle Association. People who don’t think the way they do, embrace the causes they hold dear or even eat at the fancy restaurants they like are “white trash” worthy of scorn.

USA Today columnist Glenn Reynolds shared a few recent anecdotes and quotes to illustrate this phobia, all of them in response to the election of Donald Trump as president:

Ned Resnikoff, a “senior editor” at the liberal website ThinkProgress, wrote on Facebook that he’d called a plumber to fix a clogged drain. … “He was a perfectly nice guy and a consummate professional. But he was also a middle-aged white man with a Southern accent who seemed unperturbed by this week’s news.”

This created fear: “While I had him in the apartment, I couldn’t stop thinking about whether he had voted for Trump, whether he knew my last name is Jewish, and how that knowledge might change the interaction we were having inside my own home.” When it was all over, Resnikoff reported that he was “rattled” at the thought that a Trump supporter might have been in his home. “I couldn’t shake the sense of potential danger.”

… [A]nother piece on reacting to the election, by Tim Kreider in The Week, is titled “I love America. It’s Americans I hate.” Writes Kreider, “The public is a swarm of hostile morons, I told her. You don’t need to make them understand you; you just need to defeat them, or wait for them die. … A vote for Trump is kind of like a murder.”

… [I]n a notorious Yale Law Journal article, feminist law professor Wendy Brown wrote about an experience in which, after a wilderness hike, she returned to her car to find it wouldn’t start. A man in an NRA hat spent a couple of hours helping her get it going, but rather than display appreciation for this act of unselfishness, Brown wrote that she was lucky she had friends along, as a guy like that was probably a rapist.

As Reynolds notes, this kind of class bigotry isn’t new in America. It’s actually older than the country, as documented in great detail last year by historian Nancy Isenberg in the book “White Trash.” It is a dry read at times, but the stories in it are remarkable, in part because they stretch over hundreds of years.

The current angst among America’s elite shows that nothing has changed. Ironically, this new wave of narrow-mindedness started with the political ascension of a billionaire celebrity named Trump.


Filed under: Books and Culture and Hatin' On Rednecks and History and News & Politics and People and Rednecks
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The Ungolden Rule Is Worth 300,000 Pennies
Posted on 01.12.17 by Danny Glover @ 5:10 pm

If you ever need an anecdote to illustrate the opposite of the Golden Rule in action, this story from Virginia should do the trick nicely:

After carting the fifth and final wheelbarrow of pennies into the Lebanon Department of Motor Vehicles Wednesday, Nick Stafford could feel the burn in his arms. Winded, Stafford took a smoke break in the DMV’s parking lot. “I’m not used to lifting,” Stafford said. “These are heavy.”

Heavy, indeed. The 300,000 pennies the Cedar Bluff, Virginia man took to the DMV Wednesday morning to pay sales tax on two new cars weighed in at 1,600 pounds. A mature Holstein cow weighs about 1,500 pounds.

See, Stafford had a bone to pick with the DMV. It wasn’t about agonizingly long lines or a bad picture on his driver’s license: It came down to 10 phone numbers. And Stafford ended up filing three lawsuits and spending at least $1,005 to give the DMV his 2 cents.

The story even comes with a quote that is the antithesis of the Golden Rule: “If they were going to inconvenience me, then I was going to inconvenience them.”

Stafford was legally in the right and the Virginia DMV officials were in the wrong, but talk about biting off your nose to spite your face! Stafford went to great trouble and expense all so he could say, “I think I proved my point here.”

Sure, I chuckled at the thought of bureaucrats being forced to count 300,000 pennies as the consequence for having denied a taxpayer basic information he was entitled to get. Many of us are tempted to seek revenge after such aggravating experiences — and sometimes we do, though probably to a far lesser degree.

But what struck me about this story was the depth of Stafford’s bitterness. He undoubtedly had many nights to examine his own attitude and reconsider his course of vindictiveness, yet Stafford woke up every morning determined to be a bigger jerk than the DMV officials.

Filing a freedom-of-information request to get the one telephone number he needed was a reasonable response to bureaucratic stonewalling. Picking a court over phone numbers he didn’t need was petty. Hiring people to bash open rolls of pennies, buying wheelbarrows to haul those pennies into a government office, and watching gleefully for hours as public servants satisfied his spiteful demand was downright cruel.

The man who thinks he is the hero of this story actually is the villain.


Filed under: Culture and Government and Human Interest and News & Politics and People and Religion
Comments: None

Explaining West Virginia
Posted on 12.21.16 by Danny Glover @ 12:42 pm

This is true while also being aggravating and amusing at the same time:

To those of us from West Virginia, it’s highly amusing to hear commentators in Washington and New York attempt to explain why out-of-work coal miners, steelworkers and construction workers voted so overwhelmingly for Donald Trump.

The post-election Washington Post column above follows a reported Post feature from the Mountain State, where the newspaper gave West Virginians a chance to explain for themselves why they voted for Trump. Here are some excerpts:

  • “West Virginians are realists. The mines have been shut down, the railroads have been torn up, the preparation plants have closed. A lot of stuff has been done that can’t be undone. But I’m really looking forward to this president. It’s kind of refreshing to see people come into government who know how business works.”
  • “I like the way he talks — straight, not like that Hillary [Clinton], the way she got up there and shook her finger and said she’d shut every mine down. What would that do to West Virginia?”
  • “Trump was just what people here have always been — skeptical of government, almost libertarian. He’s a West Virginia pipe dream: He’s going to undo the damage to the coal industry and bring back the jobs, and all of our kids down there in North Carolina are going to come home. … If the economy turns around, he’ll get the credit.”

And here’s a piece in Reason magazine, written by a West Virginian, that explores why poverty-stricken people in places like his native McDowell County don’t just leave.

The short answer: It’s complicated. Read the whole story for the long answer. It’s worth it if you’re the least bit interested in understanding the redneck mindset.


Filed under: News & Politics and People and Rednecks and West Virginia
Comments: None

The Photog Who Saw Trump As A Phenom
Posted on 12.12.16 by Danny Glover @ 12:24 pm

This is how journalism is supposed to work — you go places and report what you see and hear, even if you don’t like it: “I don’t like Trump, not in the least bit, but I was watching him resonate.”

[Chris] Arnade sought the poor or unfashionable areas in every location, whether Worcester, Mass.; Utica, N.Y.; Bridgeport, Conn.; Baltimore; or El Paso.

By the summer of 2015, shortly after Trump declared his candidacy, something remarkable was happening. “Everybody I talked to wanted to vote for Trump,” he said. “There was a big disconnect between what you’d see in the press and what I’d hear on the ground.”

He kept going: Buffalo. Kingston, Tenn. Milwaukee. Selma, Ala. He would find the McDonald’s in the poor part of town, or the Walmart parking lot, places he described as ad hoc community centers.

Back in May, when many were still pooh-poohing Trump’s chances, Arnade wrote a notable series of tweets: If Trump didn’t win this time around, it would only be because he was such a deeply flawed candidate; but some Trumplike figure soon would capi­tal­ize on people’s anger and disenfranchisement.

The photographer who watched this phenomenon unfold wasn’t a journalist by training. He saw the story the “real” journalists couldn’t because he drove into flyover country with open eyes and an open mind.

The media elites should take the lesson to heart. They won’t.


Filed under: Media and News & Politics and People and Photography
Comments: None

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