"The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution, if you only know how to use it," Sherlock Holmes advised in "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons."
We like to throw quotes around whenever the topic is relevant, here in Sherlock-land. Most times, the spirit of the quoting is a simple, "Hey! Sherlock said something about this topic!" Sometimes, Sherlock's words are to the point regarding the matter at hand. And then sometimes . . . well, sometimes they bear a little more consideration. Which is the case with the quote above.
The context for that line is definitely worth considering, given current trends. Sherlock Holmes spoke those words after delighting in the fact that a newspaper reported that he and Lestrade were in complete agreement that a crime was surely committed by a crazy person, because there was no other sense to it. Which wasn't true.
Sherlock Holmes purposefully let the reporter involved in the case have the wrong facts. And then delights in "using" the Press.
It's a time-honored tradition in police and detective fiction, letting the newspapers print something false in order to lure the criminals into a false sense of security. And it's really just an expansion of Sherlock Holmes not telling his friend Watson everything he's thinking about a case until he is certain of every detail . . . only this time, instead of just not telling Watson, he didn't tell a newspaper reporter.
Yet the line doesn't ring as happily virtuous in a day when both the corrupt and foolish are obviously lying to the press at every turn, just to keep their fan clubs happy. "Using" the Press . . . or whatever social media outlet communicates with a mass audience most effectively . . . has become a troubling hobby for trolls of all levels. The Press is a valuable institution -- that is a fact that even its current foes must privately acknowledge, or else they wouldn't be so dead-set on knocking down the segments of it they don't like.
The second part of Holmes's statement, "if you know how to use it," is not just a statement about the technique of using the Press. It also has an implied, unstated meaning . . . that Sherlock Holmes was using it in the good work of the detective in revealing the final truth of the matter at hand. Any weapon or tool doesn't just demand knowledge of how it works. It calls upon us to know what it's real purpose is.
You can hit people on the head with a wrench all day long, but head-smacking isn't what gives the wrench its greatest value. No, that is for the tightening of screwed objects. (No jokes about how we are almost all "screwed objects" these days.) And when Sherlock Holmes said "The Press, Watson, is a valuable institution," he was speaking of its proper purposes as well.
A good many Press outlets were making a public case for their importance to society this week, something that should be a real no-brainer. And yet, apparently, the example of a brain like Sherlock Holmes is something we still need in America.
And giving his words a full consideration now and then is a valuable institution as well.