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For more than 30 years, John Kiesewetter has been the source for information about all things in local media – comings and goings, local people appearing on the big or small screen, special programs, and much more.Local media is still his beat and he’s bringing his interest, curiosity, contacts and unique style to Cincinnati Public Radio and 91.7 WVXU.Contact John at johnkiese@yahoo.com.

Commentary: Lies, Fraud Poison Peaceful Mayberry

CBS Sunday Morning's visit to Mayberry reveals disturbing alternative universe inhabited by people "searching for what made America great in a copy of a town that never was."

We all know that Mayberry is a fantasy, right?

The setting for The Andy Griffith Show – where Sheriff Taylor, his son Opie and Deputy Barney Fife lived in the 1960s – was a feel-good fictional town for a television show, right?

CBS Sunday Morning broadcast a very disturbing report Sunday from a recent visit to Mayberry – the tourist attraction recreating the TV show's jail, Wally's Service station and Floyd's Barbershop in Mount Airy, N.C., the birthplace of actor Andy Griffith.

Veteran reporter Ted Koppel interviewed Mayberry visitors who are living in a make-believe world that poses a serious threat to American society. He spoke to people who said they believe Donald Trump lost the election due to widespread voter fraud, that cities are "being burned down every day" by protestors, that the Jan. 6 assault on Congress was staged, and that the national news media doesn't tell the truth — all lies perpetuated by the Fox News Channel opinion hosts and other right-wing outlets pushing an agenda, not factual, provable information.

For the first 10 minutes, Koppel's story was a love letter to Mount Airy, a town on US 52 in the northwest corner of the state which re-invented itself as a Mayberry tourist attraction after tobacco and textile mills closed.

Viewers saw the recreations of Sheriff Andy Taylor's office and jail, Deputy Barney Fife's black-and-white Ford Galaxy sheriff's cruiser, the Mayberry Courthouse, Wally's Service station, "Andy Griffith's homeplace (1935-1966)" and even Opie's Candy Store.

Then Koppel's story took a sharp turn to the right.

He chatted with passengers on a trolley touring the city, all of them white and over the age of 50. Only two weren't Trump supporters. The majority spewed the misinformation and disinformation fabrications fed to them by ultra conservative websites and primetime hosts on Fox News, including those I've witnessed repeating Trump's lies that the national TV networks and news organizations which strive to tell an unbiased truth every day "hate America."

(I've been a professional journalist seeking and reporting the truth for 46 years, and I take this issue very personally. To me it's not political, or a conservative/liberal issue. It's truth versus lies. And it's a grave threat to our democracy when citizens can't agree on basic, proven facts such as there is no proof of extensive voter fraud last November and plenty of evidence that the Capitol was assaulted in January by Trump supporters wanting to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College results electing Joe Biden as our president.)

Here' a transcript of Koppel's conversation with Trump supporters:

KOPPEL: Let me just ask you as a matter of curiosity: How many of you think we had a fair election? [Only two hands go up.]

MAN WITH AMERICAN FLAG ON SHIRT: No way! No, no. No it wasn't. No, it was not…

KOPPEL: Because?

MAN IN BLUE SHIRT: I think there was a lot of voter fraud. It's done been proven. There's been people that voted that's been dead 15 years! I think it's more the mail-in ballots. You don't know how much of those that were duplicated and triplicated, the whole bit.

MAN IN DARK SHIRT: Look how many dead people voted for Biden!

KOPPEL: Tell me what you think happened Jan. 6 at Congress.

MAN WITH AMERICAN FLAG ON SHIRT: They show truckloads of people that they were bringing in for this. It was all staged, and that's how that started. They even showed pictures of it from the news of all these vehicles with all these BLM people.

WOMAN IN PINK: I think it was staged. We've been to a lot of Trump rallies. I don't know why they're focusing on that one issue when there are cities being burned down every day by protestors that's supposed to be peaceful.

WOMAN IN BURNT ORANGE TOP: We don't even watch the news on TV any more. We don't feel like we are being told the truth. We find our truth in other ways, and I won't say what those other ways are, but I feel we're not being told the truth because we're trying to be swayed in a direction that we know is not the right direction.

KOPPEL: When President Trump talked about the press being the enemy of the people --

WOMAN IN BURNT ORANGE TOP: They are. I love President Trump. I love that man, I do.

WOMAN IN PINK TOP: I just hope that when this airs, it won't show southerners as a bunch of dumb idiots like so many parts of the country do. We have a lot of love in our hearts.

Their hearts might be filled with love, but their minds are full of lies.

Poisonous lies that have resulted in new voter suppression laws in multiple states, and caused Republican congressional members to oppose an investigation into the first siege of the U.S. Capitol since 1814. Republican politicians are catering to people – "the base" – who don't, and won't, accept the truth. Republican politicians are enabling and empowering people who unwittingly are living in a disturbing alternate reality, instead of serving the greater good of this great nation.

Listen closely to Koppel's commentary on the story:

"It's a little bizarre. It (The Andy Griffith Show) went off the air more than 50 years ago. It captured a reality that never was …

Mayberry is where 30 million Americans went to escape reality (in the 1960s) – which is why it's strange to find so many people a half of a century later searching for what made America great in a copy of a town that never was."

Near the end of the story, The Woman In The Pink Top pleaded with Koppel, "We love our fellow man. And if the rest of the country felt like that, it would be a better place."

No, this country would be a better place if all people got their information from hard-working journalists who search for—and report—only the facts every day.

This country would be a better place if all citizens shared and agreed upon the same basic facts, reality grounded in truth.

People are entitled to their own opinions, even the Fox News stars. But not their own facts.

Updated: September 23, 2021 at 8:22 AM EDT
This story has been updated.