The New York Times published a comprehensive story today in its Sunday magazine about Twin Falls and the debate over refugee resettlement, the Fawnbrook incident and fake news.
The piece is excellent, although it offers few surprises for Magic Valley residents who’ve lived through the turmoil. Rather, we hope the story is widely read by Americans outside the Magic Valley, who can learn from what happened here.
What are the lessons?
Our spirit of community was strong enough to overcome attempts to divide us. As we know now but didn’t then, even Russian operatives were helping sow discord online in Twin Falls. They were aided by American media outlets like Breitbart, which published outlandish conspiracy theories about Muslims taking over Twin Falls, an apparent warning to Americans everywhere that disaster was just around the corner. It isn’t and never was.
Our institutions are much stronger than populists would lead you to believe. In Twin Falls, police, prosecutors and elected officials handled themselves with grace and professionalism, ensuring justice was served for the perpetrators in the Fawnbrook case. The College of Southern Idaho never wavered in its support for the Refugee Resettlement Center.
And neither did community support for the center wane. In fact, donations and offers for volunteers flooded in. If anything, the refugee center came out of the crisis for the better, with a heightened community awareness of the plight of refugees, and a better understanding about how they’re vetted, the limited benefits they receive and how the vast majority of refugees strive to assimilate and become productive members of our community.
Residents here also learned that local reporters, trained journalists with a stake in their community who still play by a long-established set of rules built on commitments to truth, fairness and responsibility, can be counted on to deliver unvarnished news. Before anyone ever heard the term “fake news,” reporters here were exposing it and debunking falsehoods.
Despite our reporting, some Magic Valley residents fell for the propaganda. But most did not. We should be proud of that.
Our only quibble about the Times story is with an online headline: “How Fake News Turned a Small Town Upside Down.”
Were we really ever upside down?
Charlottesville was upside down. Ferguson was upside down. Despite the efforts of Russians, racists and xenophobes, there were no riots. There were no beatings. There weren’t even really protests outside of a few dozen people anyone hardly noticed.
We don’t mean to dismiss the ugliness that descended on Twin Falls. That was very real.
But we never let it turn us upside down. Instead, we faced it head-on, as Idahoans do, and overcame the challenges dropped in our laps.
Now, we can only hope other Americans learn from our experience.