Sanitizing the Fairfield Story

Discussion of an article that ran November 12, 2006, in the Washington Post

Ah, the powerful temptation to make a story just a little bit better than it really is. When one is in pursuit of perfection, an "almost perfect" story in a major newspaper falls a little short of satisfaction. Here is my original piece on an episoide of fine tuning, followed by my "clarification" the following week.
The "Invincible America" course mentioned below is a large gathering of meditators from around the nation and the world, come to create an impetus for peace.

The TM movement is justifiably proud of the glowing, front-page feature article on Fairfield and Vedic City that appeared in the Washington Post’s travel section on Sunday. As John Hagelin rightly observed, one could not buy this kind of stunning publicity, delivered to the Sunday brunch tables of the movers and shakers in Washington. Dr. Hagelin also declared, a tad more hyperbolically perhaps, that with the flowering of the Invincible America course Fairfield has become "the most important place in the entire universe."

To the extent that this is true, would it not be best to allow Fairfield to show itself in all its true colors? Yet when the movement, on Monday, sent the Post article to its extensive mailing lists, quite a few changes had silently been made.

It started innocently enough. The first paragraph in the Post’s version told us that "Marie-Helene Tourenne ... left the coq au vin to simmer." In the new version her cooking had become more nondescript, and she "left meals to simmer". Since some feel that chicken and wine have no rightful place amongst us, it was decided that the details about what our French chef was in fact cooking shoudl be removed.

There were more substantive edits. The title of the original piece was "OM on the Grange," but that morphed into "Transcendental Iowa." And two misleading references to TM being a breathing technique were fixed up. One might have expected these corrections to be made via Editor’s Notes, leaving the originals in place, but the more stealthy approach of direct alteration was chosen.

The boldest stroke of sanitization came next. The Post reporter took in many of the sights and shops of our community. At one point he said, "Besides the MUM campus, practitioners can pore over meditation literature at 21st Century Books. They can visit Maharishi Vedic City, a model town founded by TM followers just outside Fairfield. Or they can shop at Thymely Solutions, which specializes in homeopathic remedies, and other boutiques started by meditators." In the new version, two named businesses disappeared from the list: "Besides the MUM campus, practitioners can visit Maharishi Vedic City, a model town founded by TM followers just outside Fairfield. Or they can shop at the many stores and boutiques started by meditators."

Apparently the existence of books about meditation and the existence of homeopathic remedies in our town would be embarrassing or confusing to someone, and it was felt that such references deserved to be suppressed. If not, hapless readers might get a sense that our community includes diversity in its approaches to health and in the range of its spiritual curiosities. On the other hand, the names of 'acceptable' establishments remain in the new article, including The Raj, Revelations, Americus Galleries and others.

I do not mean to sully the general celebratory mood in Fairfield these days. Interesting and wonderful things are happening, worthy of celebration. Let’s hope that as our success and our accomplishments continue to grow, we in turn grow beyond the need to whitewash the diverse details of life as lived in this community.

A follow-up article...

Last week’s article, Sanitizing the Fairfield Story, which described some of the edits that were made to a major Washington Post article on Fairfield before it was widely emailed and posted on, inspired a lot of responses. Many people emphasized how important it is to them that stories about our community and the TM movement be presented fully and fairly.

Bobby Roth, who has for tireless decades been in the forefront of the movement’s press relations and publicity activities, called me from Holland last Thursday about the Sanitizing article within two hours of its publication, and we have since spoken twice. He wanted the community to hear the facts from his point of view, which I will present here simply and without elaboration — other than to say that Bobby reacted to the situation with grace and humility, taking "full personal responsibility" for the edited version having been circulated, and apologizing for the error that led to its release.

Bobby told me that the altered version of the Post article was created for use in other countries, including African nations, India, and Taiwan, where it was felt that certain references would not have been particularly meaningful and so were edited out. He says that the edited version was not meant for posting or circulating in the U.S., but was added to the web site and emailed by mistake.

As for some of the specifics: The change of the title to "Transcendental Iowa" was, Bobby says, fully approved by the Post reporter. Far from having any animus against 21st Century Books and Thymely Solutions (whose names were removed from the article), Bobby says that he personally loves those stores and it was he who specifically arranged for the reporter to visit them.

Above all, Bobby says, he had no intention to hide anything. "Our success on the media team is based on the fact that we are always honest and open with the press. We value our relationship with the Fairfield community, and the trust we share, above everything, and we would never do anything consciously to jeopardize that."