The Worst in All of Us

I learned this morning that someone has posted a video on YouTube purporting to show two contract workers “destroying” an Albany City park.  What the video really shows are two workers on riding mowers cutting the grass under very wet conditions.  Not surprisingly, there are visible muddy patches when the work is completed.  Our contractor has done a good job for the City over the past five years, and my opinion of our parks is that they are well maintained.

Nearly every day, an ever increasing number of public media are used by someone to make somebody else look bad.  In the old days, people were limited to word of mouth or perhaps a letter to the editor when they felt the need to point out the worst in someone else.  The media explosion certainly carries the benefit of bringing wrongdoing to public attention, but it also enables more sophisticated manipulation and outright deceit.

A recent video making the rounds on the Internet supposedly shows people inside a doomed jetliner following a collision with another aircraft.  The image would be horrific if it was anything other than the hoax it turned out to be.  The clip actually came from an episode of a popular, fictional television show.

Last week, a friend sent me a moving story he had apparently received in an e-mail.  I did a quick check on www.snopes.com and found that while part of the story was true, its main point was completely undermined by additional information.

Many people, though not most in my opinion, have an interest in making government look bad.  Given the many things we ask government at all levels to do, it’s not hard to find examples of problems and failures.  It’s equally simple to illustrate the worst of business or people in general if someone is motivated to do it.  We shouldn’t ignore reports or examples of bad behavior, but we should be careful in drawing conclusions, particularly when someone is leading us to them.

I don’t know the full story of the grass cutting incident at Hackleman Park yet.  The video I saw on YouTube clearly was made with the intention of criticizing the contract workers and showing how tax dollars are wasted by government.  The person who made the video added comments, titles, and music to lead viewers to his or her point of view.  If the video were shown without commentary, I wonder how many people would share that perspective.

If the video truly documents poor performance or wrongdoing, I’m confident our Parks Department management staff will address the problem.  I also know whatever actions they take will be guided by their best efforts to see the whole picture.