Life through the looking glass

Islanders Write panel takes a hard look at the press and politics in America.

Martha's Vineyard Times publisher Peter Oberfest introduces last year's political discussion. This year's promises to be another lively discussion.

Feeling like you’ve fallen down the national rabbit hole? That Alice is at the bottom, just as confused, angry and scared as you are?

Communication and truth-telling are good antidotes to that condition and a panel of national journalists, wise in the ways of political turmoil, will convene on Sunday, August 5, at 7:30 pm in the Old Grange Hall in West Tisbury to help us mark the trail to sanity.

“Politics and the Press: Covering the Chaos,” an audience-interactive discussion, opens the fifth annual Islanders Write (IW) conference, which will continue all-day Monday with panels, how-to’s and dialogue with with top authors and publishing pros. Complete program info is available at

IW is sponsored by this newspaper, MV Arts & Ideas magazine and co-sponsored by Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, Vineyard Haven, and WBUR (NPR), and will feature food from Scottish Bakehouse, North Tisbury.

This is the third IW political panel in a series of rollicking, raucous and occasionally profane events. It’s probably the most important, with a focus on understanding, communicating and the role of the much-maligned press in that work.

For one thing, Charlayne Hunter-Gault is moderating. She’s concerned that our greatest national threat is not just ongoing political antics but the resulting national divisiveness.

In a conversation with The Times this week, Hunter-Gault explained. “This (divisiveness) is not only related to race and racism. Former President Jimmy Carter said recently he has never experienced divisiveness at this level in his lifetime and he is 94 years old,” she said. That brought to mind an old saying that, in the interest of harmony, friends and family should not discuss religion or politics. The updated version seems to be we’ve stopped talking at all with people who disagree with us.

Now, Carter and Hunter-Gault know divisiveness firsthand. Hunter-Gault integrated the University of Georgia in 1961 when Carter was 167 miles away farming in Plains. Ga., two years away from his first political office and a career devotion to equal rights.

The Sunday night discussion will be politically outspoken, given the audience and panelists, but Hunter-Gault has added additional texture to the voices. Melinda Henneberger is a heartlander, an award-winning journalist and author, whose work indicates a prescience for emerging social currents. Her book,Her book, “If They Only Listened to Us: What Women Voters Want Politicians to Hear,” came out two years before the Me-Too movement. She covered the travails of South American asylum-seekers several years before we began incarcerating toddlers at our borders.

“We will have some balance in the conversation, Melinda is from a red state. She’ll give us a reality check on the heartland. Let’s hear it from someone who lives there,” Hunter-Gault said of the former Washington Post and Newsweek reporter.

Bob Drogin is another interesting panel choice. A veteran award-winning journalist and author, Drogin covers intelligence and national security in the Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times. He has covered presidential elections since 1984, has worked in world hot spots and was part of a Charlotte (N.C.) Observer 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting team and knows how the press and political world works here and around the globe.

“Bob gives us a long-term perspective. He was in Singapore for the North Korean summit and on the front lines of Helsinki (recent Trump-Putin meeting). He can give us insight on stories that haven’t been told,” Hunter-Gault said.

We know panelist Richard North Patterson best today as a best-selling novelist and Island resident but he has lawyered at the highest level of government, going back to Watergate when he was the Security and Exchange Commission’s liaison for the Watergate investigation. That’s  valuable perspective these days, and Patterson, a columnist for Huffington Post, is not shy. “Ric is an elegant, eloquent opinion writer. His words are searing. He provides a well-expressed hard look,” Hunter-Gault said.

“I think the panelists will bring issues to light, depending on where you go to get news. We have to figure out ways to get different voices heard and these panelists are prefect for that purpose. We will have some balance in our conversation and we want the audience to be engaged in the conversation,” she said.

Hunter-Gault sees a need for the U.S. press to lead both in America and around the world. “We know America sets the bar for free press reporting. Fake news is a new term but we hear it applied to media around the world in both democracies and autocracies. We need to ask what we are doing as (press) leaders.The media is a critical part of democracy, to be the voice of the people,” she said.

“Islanders Write” takes place on Sunday, August 5, at 7:30 pm and Monday, August 6, 8 am to 5pm at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. Free and open to the public. For a full listing of events visit