The late comedian Gilda Radner played a recurring character called “Emily Litella” on “Saturday Night Live” in the 1970s. Emily appeared on the “Weekend Update” to provide an opposing viewpoint. She would go on about some issue that she had completely misinterpreted, until the anchor politely corrected her.

Wikipedia offers this example: “What is all this fuss I hear about the Supreme Court decision on a ‘deaf’ penalty? It’s terrible! Deaf people have enough problems as it is!” Upon learning that the case involved the death penalty, Emily would say, “Never mind.”

Something akin to this set Augusta abuzz for a week or so in early July. Unfortunately, in the 21st century, saying “never mind,” is not nearly enough.

I am speaking, of course, about the video that Laura Benedict, owner of the Red Barn restaurant, posted on Facebook. In it, she condemned the city of Augusta for fining her $200 because she had not obtained a permit for a concert held in the summer of 2016. Unfortunately, she did not first read the correspondence from the city that triggered her rant. As a result, she got her facts wrong.

The resulting firestorm was impressive. City officials and staff were inundated with nastygrams. Intense arguments erupted on Facebook. Posters took one of two basic positions. One side: A person who does good things for her community, as Benedict unquestionably does, should not be required to obey city ordinances. The nasty neighbors who complained about the loud music at the Red Barn’s concerts are the ones who are at fault.

The other side: No one is above the law.


I have drawn three conclusions from this story. We all need to be careful and judicious in our use of social media. The average American lacks critical thinking skills. And the average American’s grasp of civics is poor.

Let’s take the first issue, which is really the central one. People need to think before they post. Anything. I won’t even post a quote from a long-dead white guy like Walt Whitman before making sure I’ve got it right. In this case, the whole rant was based on a false assumption — that the concert in question was a fundraiser for veterans. The video went viral. It caused people to lash out. This is not a surprising result. The power to publish is no longer restricted to media professionals, which is not a bad thing in and of itself. Unfortunately, too many “communicators” don’t understand — as Spider-Man does — that with great power comes great responsibility.

This is important because we apparently live in a country heavily populated with people who have no critical thinking skills whatsoever. I did not coin the term “sheeple,” but I use it often. I did not immediately assume the city was at fault when the video emerged. I might have, since I have found myself at odds with the municipal powers that be in Augusta more than once. My husband, Paul, and I don’t hesitate to complain when we have a problem. To the authorities, of course — we don’t post videos on Facebook. In fact, one of our issues years ago involved excessively loud music from a nearby restaurant (not the Red Barn).

I immediately recognized there were three sides to this story: Benedict’s, the city’s and that of the neighbors. Benedict’s video provided the only viewpoint at first. As this newspaper published balanced articles about it, some of Benedict’s supporters continued to ignore the facts in accurate Facebook posts, prompting sensible people to respond: “Read the story!”

Fact: If a person takes to Facebook to let loose on a legitimate fine, I’m going to have my doubts about taking it at, well, face value.

Ah, the legitimate fine. Here’s where the civics lesson begins. The city of Augusta has a noise ordinance. If you wish to exceed it for a large gathering, you must obtain a permit. This applies to all of us, whether we are good, bad or indifferent. If you are a resident of Augusta and do not like this law, take steps to try to change it. You have that right.


Meanwhile, consider the rights of people who want to sit out on their decks on a summer day and enjoy an adult beverage. Listen to the birds. Read a book. Why should they be inundated with music they have no interest in hearing?

After a week of back and forth on this topic, some posters wondered why people were still talking about it. I thought the lengthy discussion was a good sign. This was not a simple case of a misunderstanding, followed by an apology. It was about a lot of people jumping to erroneous conclusions, making irrational judgments and spitting vitriol without reason.

I was disturbed and unsettled by this experience, and will continue to ponder its implications.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at

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