Enemies of the People?

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We humans are tribal creatures, and it’s simple to get us to view other “tribes” — people not exactly like us — with suspicion and distrust. Hatred is easy; tolerance is difficult.

Which is why it’s so disturbing to see how citizens are being worked into a frenzy against the press nowadays. Sure, there are many legitimate criticisms that can be leveled at the various media – too superficial, too focused on quick and easy ratings, too disposed to “follow the leader.” Those issues, and more, deserve to be the subject of thoughtful discussions and serious soul-searching on the part of editors and reporters.

But thoughtful discussions are in short supply these days. Instead, we have the nation’s president calling journalists “enemies of the people,” liars, losers, failures and more.

We aren’t going to argue here that journalists are nobler than anyone else, but we aren’t any less noble, either. Journalists aren’t a bloc. There are good reporters and bad reporters, just as there are brutal cops and patient cops, helpful store clerks and hateful ones.

It would be very peculiar if the president were suddenly to start claiming that all plumbers were liars or that most doctors disseminated “fake diagnoses.” But when he stands up in front of a crowd of ardent supporters and claims that most journalists lie on a regular basis, he gets raucous applause. And members of one particular profession become the objects of hatred, to the point where it’s quite possible that some unhinged person or other is eventually going to go after a newsroom with an assault rifle.

Mr. Trump certainly isn’t the only person slamming the press these days. The far left is always carping that the “mainstream media,” which they believe to be one single giant entity, is too timid, too corporate, and even too kind to Donald Trump (yes, there are people who believe that). And various fringe groups lambaste the MSM for not taking seriously different conspiracy theories (9-11 was perpetrated by the Bush administration, vaccines are a form of population control, and so on).

All this, coupled with rapid technological change and people’s diminishing interest in reading, means it’s a tough time to be working in the media these days.

The simplest solution, if you’re reporting or publishing, is to go bland. Write about the least-controversial topics you can. When you report on the president, a governor or even your own city council, just report what they say and do — don’t question or fact-check their statements. If you’re a newspaper, publish inoffensive, pleasant columns that don’t contain strong opinions.

We at the Free Press have struggled with these decisions. Because of the topics we write about, there are people in the local area who feel they would turn to stone if they ever once eyeballed a copy of the Free Press. And there are some of our own readers who threaten to cancel their subscriptions because they don’t like one particular column or other that doesn’t reinforce their pre-existing views.

Our choice has been, and will continue to be, to try to offer a smorgasbord – serious news, feature stories, a smattering of entertainment, humorous columns as well as serious, ideally with differing political views. It’s a buffet, folks – you don’t have to sample everything.

The fact that we’re starting our 15th year shows that most people understand that. But it’s dispiriting to feel, after all this time, that we are regarded as somehow less than human because of our president’s constant, sweeping complaints. People take their cues from their leader, and some of this filters down to the local level. There are leaders here who have made pronouncements in public meetings that one piece of reporting or other was “inaccurate” without giving the reporters a chance to defend themselves. (At times they’ve later admitted they were wrong and the original story was right – but they do that in private.) Like Trump, they fail to grasp a simple truth: Our best leaders, the ones we commoners most admire, are those who take responsibility for their own misstatements and errors of judgment, and would never stoop to hiding behind such flimsy excuses as being “misquoted” or “taken out of context.”

Journalism is hard work but it is valuable and necessary. Those who practice it don’t deserve to be demonized.

So we ask, if you have criticisms of our efforts, call us to account. Write letters or columns. Quit reading, if you must. But don’t fall into the easy trap of believing that we or any other members of much larger press organizations are enemies of the people. Don’t be drawn into a mob mentality of lobbing wild complaints not justified by the facts.

You don’t have to like the press, but you need it. The country needs it. The Founding Fathers recognized that fact.

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