‘Michael, do you have a million dollars lying around that you don’t need?”

Michael Rosenthal and his neighbor Pastor Walter Mitty were engaged in their daily morning check-in by phone.

“No problem, Walt. When do you need it? Oh, and by the way, what for?”

“Well, Dan Bailey at the Poplar Park Times is letting anyone say anything they want in the letters to the editor section. Like one letter said that the middle school should take razor blades and cut out the pages in their history books that talk about the Haymarket Riot.”


“Well, because she said it’s anti-police. The textbook stated that, after the bomb was thrown, the police started shooting ‘with random gunfire’ and the word ‘random’ shows that the book is biased.”

“Hmmm. So you want to buy the PP Times so you can edit out all the fake news and downright lies?”

“Michael, you know I was joking, but I do wish there was a way to get Bailey to censor that kind of crap. I mean, I know there’s the issue of freedom of speech, but there are laws against slander and libel, so there’s no such thing as absolute freedom of speech, is there?”

“And Trump,” Mitty added before his neighbor could respond, “has been accused of inciting violence with his speech, so that must be another limit.”

“So Walt, is Elon Musk your role model here?”

“Like I have access to 44 billion dollars, Michael.”

“But you do have fantasies about controlling the local paper and then controlling what gets printed and what does not.”

“Well, that is true, I have to admit. But Musk wants to decrease censorship on Twitter. I think he calls it a digital town square.”

“Walt, if that’s true, it means he trusts users to separate fact from fiction, truth from lies, doesn’t it? Let every voice be heard and somehow the truth will emerge?”

Mitty took a moment, then replied, “You know, Michael, I guess to be honest I don’t trust readers to be able to make that discernment. From what I hear, Musk will probably let Trump back on Twitter and that means, like a loudspeaker, Twitter will allow him to reach even more people. I read yesterday that 35% of Americans still believe that the election was stolen.”

“I hear you,” said Michael. “I read in Newsweek that 83% of the Russian people approve of Putin’s ‘special operation’ in Ukraine, but isn’t that because he eliminated almost every voice that proposes an alternative narrative to his?”

“So,” said Mitty, “you’re saying the opposite of allowing anything to be printed or broadcast is to have only one source of information, right?”

“Even though you’re always right, of course.”

“Of course, and everyone who disagrees with me is an idiot!”

Michael laughed but felt he needed to see both sides. “But don’t conservatives call what you’re talking about ‘cancel culture’? Like you don’t want them to cut out stories about the Haymarket Riot, but you want to kind of cut out what they believe from our local newspaper.”

“Maybe in a way, Michael, but what I want is the truth based on facts, and the big lie is the product of someone’s imagination. In our library it would be shelved in the fiction department.”

“OK, Walt, let’s say you and I bought the Times. You of course would want to be the editor, and am I right in imagining that you would not want your paper to be labeled as a liberal propaganda sheet? So how would you make sure that conservative voices are heard if you’re the one deciding which content is admissible and which is not?”

Pastor Walt wanted to repeat that he would separate fact from fiction, but realized right away that a mortal human is limited in his capacity to discern truth, so what he said instead was, “I guess when a lie is as big as the Big Lie, I would be able to tell the difference, but in most cases I’d have to print letters if there was a grain of plausible truth in them even if I disagreed with them.” 

“Are you saying, then,” Mitty’s best friend asked, “that you think maybe Dan Bailey is doing an OK job over at the Times?”

“You’re forcing me to think, Michael, and I don’t like that,” said Mitty with a chuckle, “especially when I have to examine my own motivations.”

“So are you taking the proposal to buy the Poplar Park Times off the table?”

“I guess so,” Mitty laughed, “and besides, you don’t have a million dollars lying around anyway.”