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Op-Ed

Answers could be easy

February 28, 2022

Questions seem hard, but if we're ever going to answer them, maybe we should stop thinking so hard.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

Context is everything.

I was reminded of this the other day after getting a request to take a “survey of journalists” from the Pew Research Center. And then I was reminded again after reading that the Supreme Court is going to consider the case of a web designer who doesn’t want to design a wedding page for a gay couple. Apparently, bakers aren’t the only people afflicted with homophobia.

Knee-jerk snowflake that I am, my immediate thought was that this web-design refusal was clearly illegal. Discrimination is discrimination. How could people be so awful?

That thought lasted about two seconds until my knee-jerk cynicism kicked in. Of course, people are awful. There are always horrible jerks out there and they’re intent on giving us Covid.

And then I thought about the Pew survey (which I’ll get to later) and context and my knee came to a rest. Pretty much everything is about context.

What if you’re a wedding webpage designer and you’re asked to create a lovely, romantic site for the upcoming nuptials of Ted Cruz and Marjorie Taylor Green? After dealing with your gag reflex, should you have to design that page?

What if you were asked to bake a cake for a Proud Boys company picnic? Would you want your other customers to know you did that? (Yes, I know an option is adding cyanide to the flour mix, but let’s not get carried away with hypotheticals.)

They say that good cases make bad law or maybe bad cases make good law — one of the two. I don’t who “they” are or whether that’s true, but these are pretty good examples of that.

And then I thought about pro-Covid truckers clogging Ottowa. What if they were pro-civil rights, anti-voter-suppression truckers in, say, Alabama?

You can see how thinking about this could cause a robot’s head to explode.

I was having a hard time with this problem until I thought about the Pew survey I’d taken a week earlier. Maybe the solution is obvious: stop thinking.

Let me describe this survey. It was labeled as the “2022 Survey of Journalists.” The label alone should have told me something was amiss — why would anyone describe me as a “journalist”?

Yeah, I used to be a standard journalist, I guess, but not lately. My current preferred job description is “sit-down comic.” You don’t come to me for news of the day (unless it’s really silly news).

I took the survey anyway. Here’s one of the questions: “What one word do you think best describes the news industry these days?”

Yeah, “one word” was in bold type.

ONE word!!!

There was also this: “What one word do you think the American public would use to describe the news industry these days?”

Not a lot of room for context there. How do you wrap up Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times and the Daily Bird Cage Liner in one word?

My immediate reaction was to think the questions were stupid. You don’t sum up journalism in one word. So I panicked and came up with “diverse.” A shrug emoji would have been better.

But now that I’ve thought about it and considered free-speech and free-hatred dilemmas like those above, it has occurred to me that Pew questions might be brilliant. One-word answers may be the only way to go. Just say the first thing that comes to mind and save yourself from existential agony.

No cake for Nazis!

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