Note to Mayberry: Avoid outside media

By Tom Joyce -

Tom Joyce

I’ve heard it said that things occurring in modern Mount Airy also have been the focus of episodes set in the fictional Mayberry on “The Andy Griffith Show,” which supposedly was patterned after our fair city.

One that readily comes to mind involved the actual arrest of “Otis” several years ago (or at least a local man known for portraying the town drunk, who was jailed for playing checkers in violation of municipal sidewalk rules).

An episode called “Man in a Hurry” also has played out in reality several times here over the years. It concerns a big-city businessman whose car breaks down in Mayberry, which forces him to put things on hold and enjoy some small-town charm for a change.

The actual cases have involved travelers from distant locations who’ve been so impressed by the hospitality and aid received while stranded here that they have written letters to the editor sharing their experiences.

Then there is another episode, “Opie’s Newspaper,” which sort of hits close to home. Opie launches a paper that no one reads until he starts filling it with scandalous gossip picked up from adults around town, instead of mundane items about his classmates.

Now I know what you’re thinking, but we at the local paper don’t actively court gossip like a supermarket tabloid, although this accusation was leveled back in the 1990s when the paper published a column called “Speak Up.” It allowed people to call in anonymously and vent about certain issues, which were then capsulized, unedited, in print — thus its gossipy nature.

There are many other instances of make-believe Mayberry paralleling real-life Mount Airy, but one that certainly fills the bill mirrors Mayor David Rowe recently being interviewed by the Washington Post.

In that episode, titled “Andy on Trial,” the publisher of a big-city newspaper is mad because he gets ticketed for speeding in Mayberry and fails to show up for his trial — leading to him being served with a summons.

The publisher decides to send a pretty young female reporter to Mayberry, where she poses as a college student and sweet-talks Barney to obtain dirt about the sheriff’s office for an investigative report on small-town corruption. Andy ends up facing a state misconduct hearing as a result.

Unlike the plot of a sitcom in which even the worst circumstances are resolved in the span of 30 minutes, the episode with Mayor Rowe has evolved into a political scandal that shows little signs of fading to black.

Similar to “Andy on Trial,” he met with a big-city reporter who solicited apparently off-the-cuff remarks from our mayor including his dislike for young black men wearing drooping pants.

Those comments ended up prominently displayed in a Washington Post article dealing with grass roots politics. Instead of a publisher getting ticketed for speeding, the real-life episode was triggered by the fact our community committed the dastardly act of helping Donald Trump get elected.

And because of his comments, some citizens have demanded the mayor’s resignation.

Rowe says he will not do so, and I think the incident eventually will blow over and be out of the public consciousness as most everything else does.

But the Washington Post debacle does offer a lesson for the future for our local elected and other officials to heed when it comes to dealing with out-of-town media organizations including metropolitan newspapers and broadcasters.

It always amazes me how local members of the press sometimes have a hard time getting input from our tourism leadership on various subjects.

Yet the proverbial red carpet is rolled out when some news outlet from Charlotte, Atlanta or wherever wants to visit Mount Airy/Mayberry (I guess there is a tendency to take local reporters for granted). Such contacts are routinely touted by said tourism leadership in quarterly reports of its activities.

And to be fair, those outside news outlets generally have produced wonderful stories about our city — usually focused on its Mayberry mystique. Such reports have boosted tourism in Mount Airy and otherwise put the area in a positive light.

However, the recent article quoting Mayor David Rowe ought to cause a red flag to be raised to local officials the next time they are contacted by an out-of-town media entity.

Before they wine and dine those folks and basically offer them the keys to the city with no questions asked (also featured in a memorable “Andy Griffith Show” episode), they should consider the sour grapes that can — and did — result.

Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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