A good opinion is never formulated in a vacuum. Reporting is done, context and perspective are accumulated, and then a (hopefully) sound judgment is made.

The search for context takes us to some interesting places. At The Point, the editorial board’s afternoon newsletter, we delve into the past every Thursday for what we call our Reference Point – a past Newsday editorial that appeared on that date. It invariably helps inform our current thinking, by offering a different perspective or reminding us of how little some things have changed.

This week, we looked at Newsday’s editorial the day after Pearl Harbor in 1941. And we learned anew what it was like to suddenly realize that the nation was at war. The board acknowledged that America might not be prepared for the conflict, that the fight would be “long and hard,” but that American arms were needed to end it. And the board expressed a hope that still resonates, that after World War II was over we would be wise enough “to make a post-war world in which what happened yesterday cannot happen again.” 

Earlier, The Point looked back 67 years to an editorial on the Long Island Rail Road, and discovered that even in 1955 the railroad was a source of angst and frustration. The occasion was another fare hike that exempted horseplayers from Manhattan who traveled to Long Island to play the ponies, and whose proceeds would fatten the corporate wallet of the LIRR’s owner. And we could see modern-day riders nodding in agreement with the 1955 board’s appraisal that the LIRR is “the railroad that entwines and strangles us all.”

Another Reference Point just after the 2022 midterms channeled modern concerns about election disruptions by remembering the 1972 election and its “extraordinary potential for trouble,” as Newsday’s board at the time noted. That was the first election when the voting age was reduced to 18, with those extra voters expected to put stress on the system. But that vote ended as the current one did, with boards of election calmly processing ballots until all were counted.

The Point also provided perspective on Election Night projections with a look back to the 1960 presidential election when most people on the East Coast went to bed thinking John F. Kennedy would win big thanks to a prediction from a computer named Univac. But overnight, Richard Nixon closed the gap off returns from west of the Mississippi River. It wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that Kennedy nailed down the win by 0.17%, teaching us, as the 1960 editorial board put it, “that when voting is close, machines are just as fallible as man.”

Our Thursday look-back also has put in perspective modern propaganda, misinformation, and lies via a 1948 piece intriguing titled “Bambi and the Cardinal.” It dealt with distortions of history by Russia and Hollywood – one for political purposes, the other for entertainment – which foreshadowed current actions in China and other countries, as well as the film and TV industries.

The past always informs the present, in the world of opinion as well.

Thanks for reading this trial run of our new newsletter, Viewpoints. We welcome all feedback. Please send your thoughts to thepoint@newsday.com. Viewpoints will return in January. Happy holidays!

- Michael Dobie