False narrative of “fake news” is the real threat
Today, newspaper editors across the country are penning columns in response to President Donald Trump’s ongoing broadsides against the press. This editorial joins hundreds of others in response to a call from the Boston Globe for newspapers large and small to comment in their editorial pages about the attacks on the media. We know there will be readers who won’t like this editorial and will take umbrage with it. That’s fine, and certainly their right. What we do hope happens is instead of getting mad they talk to us, send a letter to the editor or comment rationally on our web page. We all have to understand the real threat this country is under and we all have to come together to fight it.
Small communities like ours here in the Deerfield Valley still like their local news. We see and hear that just about every day from readers, advertisers, friends, and neighbors. Industry surveys bear that out as well. But that’s not to say The Deerfield Valley News and other community-based local media are immune from the attacks on journalism being waged by President Donald Trump and those who support his views of media as the enemy.
It’s not just national news media and journalists under attack. Small town weeklies and mid-sized dailies are also under siege. We’ve had comments on our Facebook page questioning why anyone would read the “fake news” on our website. We’ve also had advertisers ask why we would print news that reflects badly on the valley as a tourist destination, such as the ongoing problems with the Hermitage Club. We report on those things because that’s where the facts lead. Sometimes people forget when we report on the good things, like those who do good work in the community or great skiing conditions. It comes with the territory, and you have to take the good with the bad and find a path through it all, just like in life. We can’t always be a cheerleader.
Last week we reported on a selectboard meeting in Dover that had not been warned. If there are no journalists to report such meetings, who knows what will go on with government at any level. Back door deals, while thought to be the vehicle of big-city robber barons and Tammany Hall, occur at all levels of government and without coverage may never see the light of day.
Studies have shown that when local news media is shuttered and journalists stop covering local government decisions, communities pay the price. Higher taxes, less efficient government, and hidden corruption can all be consequences of a lack of local reporting by journalists committed to finding the story. Big city, small town, it doesn’t matter. We all lose when that happens.
We’re not going to beat around the bush. The biggest danger from President Trump and his supporters insisting on calling anything they dislike in the media “fake news” is the undermining of First Amendment rights and the free flow of information. By calling a report fake news, they often brush off the issue instead of dealing with the topic raised. That can have grave consequences for communities large and small, urban and rural, in every corner of the country.
When Trump, or anyone, labels journalists “the enemy of the people” it becomes a threat that can strike to the very core of our country’s freedoms. Aside from putting journalists in real danger, it threatens the possibility of having reasonable information on all sides of an issue put into the public domain for consideration, discussion, support or debunking.
Those attempts to destroy rational discussion, to discredit what media reports, are the real threat to the United States. Not immigrants coming over the border, trade imbalance with other countries or any other hot button topic sent out as part of the daily tweetstorm. Those issues in many ways are papering over the real threats to this country’s well-being: Honest discussion about what makes good governance, how to disagree respectfully, and how to find common ground to solve problems.
Of course, Trump loves media exposure when it’s flattering to him. We could be wrong, but we don’t think viewers of Fox and Friends will see any editorializing about the president’s attack on media. In fact we hope we’re wrong, because all journalists and media, right or left, blue or red, should take the time to comment and support one another. What will Fox do if Trump and the anti-media crowd turn on them?
If Trump’s ultimate goal is to destroy the free press that may be critical of him, he has a long way to go. But he seems willing to go the distance. As the world learned in the rise of a two-bit Austrian clerk in postwar Germany in the 1920s, over time many bad things can happen when a master manipulator sees opportunity and continues unchecked.
“The chief function of propaganda is to convince the masses, whose slowness of understanding needs to be given time in order that they may absorb information; and only constant repetition will finally succeed in imprinting an idea on their mind ... the slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula. Then one will be rewarded by the surprising and almost incredible results that such a personal policy secures.”
Adolf Hitler, “Mein Kampf”
To view the collection of editorials from across the country use the social media handle #FreePress or visit https://www.bostonglobe.com/freepress.