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Tom Dennis, Forum News Service, Published April 12 2013

Dennis: Ed Schultz’s strange claim hammers his credibility

Thwok. Thwok. Thwok.

Did you hear it?

It was the sound of palms slapping foreheads. And it echoed staccato-style up and down the Red River Valley on Thursday, as residents reacted to the news that Ed Schultz had called Fargo’s teenage sandbag-fillers “slave labor.”

Slave labor?

Thwok!

There is nothing slave-like about the workforce that filled tens of thousands of sandbags over the past few days. Talk-show host Schultz’s description of the process goes beyond exaggeration or even hyperbole. It’s practically delusional, because it not only falsely describes the event but also twists it into an ugly and bizarre caricature of the real thing.

And Schultz should know better, given his long history in sports and broadcasting in the valley. To ignore those years of experience and to mischaracterize what’s going on so completely — well, if that’s the way Schultz reports on an utterly harmless civic event in his old hometown, why should listeners trust what he says about much more controversial votes and decisions in Washington?

To repeat, there is nothing slave-like about the workforce that has been filling sandbags in Fargo — successfully filling them, by the way, judging by this Thursday news story: “Thanks to the efforts of student and community volunteers, the goal of filling 1 million sandbags for the 2013 flood season is expected to be reached today or early Friday,” Forum News Service reported.

Slaves are forced to work. Fargo’s “Sandbag Central” workers, adults and teenagers alike, all are volunteers.

Sure, Fargo’s middle- and high-school students may have felt peer pressure to take part. But it was a whole lot more than peer pressure that kept slaves out in the hot sun, and there were a whole lot sterner consequences to be faced by any slave who tried to say “No.”

Speaking of students, Fargo’s student volunteers were given time off from school; slave teens didn’t go to school at all. In fact, slaves were forbidden by law even to learn to read or write, and anyone who dared to teach them risked arrest.

Then there’s the fact that the teen volunteers in Fargo all had their parents’ permission to do the work. Did plantation owners ask for slave mothers’ permission before working their children in the field?

The sign of a good reporter is when a customer reads a story on a familiar subject, and the customer says, “Hey, that reporter did a great job.”

The sign of a bad reporter, on the other hand...

The sign of a bad reporter is exactly what was heard when valley residents reacted to Schultz’s claims. Slave labor? In Fargo? Where adult and youth volunteers are filling sandbags to protect the community?

Thwok!