Those in power will never love the news media

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Like the sun rising in the morning, you can count on one thing, any story that is less than flattering to the current president will quickly be labeled “Fake news!”

Some stories certainly deserves criticism, Donald Trump is anything but beholden to established traditional media and even the most dedicated professional news people can let emotions cloud their objectivity.

But the 45th president is far from the first to regard the media as the “enemy of the people,” and while he’s the first to use Twitter to its full potential, his effort to bypass independent media to go directly to the people is as old as the office he holds.

In fact, John Adams, our second president, pushed the 1798 Sedition Act, which made it a crime to criticize the government, until the third, Thomas Jefferson, restored sanity.

Woodrow Wilson bypassed the press by creating his own “Committee on Public Information” that produced “news stories” and newsreels with his own spin, and World War II journalists voluntarily censored their own stories in support of the war effort.

President George W. Bush, following the September 11 attacks, pushed the USA Patriot Act which some see as the most dangerous assault on personal liberties since the founding of our country.

Most of us don’t have the time or patience to spend all day watching congressional activities C-Span, or even the time to attend a city council, school board or county commissioners’ meeting. More of us should, since they’re the ones who decide how to spend the money we’ve spent our lives earning.

Since most people can’t, that’s why it’s important for independent media, often newspapers with increasingly limited resources, to be at those meetings and dig into the details that aren’t necessarily flattering to elected officials or those they hire.

No, there’s no reason to be negative unnecessarily, we live in our communities as well, and want them to prosper. But truth and transparency is vital, even in the smallest towns. Social media can never replace professional news people willing to tell the truth, even when it’s embarrassing to their friends, neighbors -- even themselves -- and take responsibility for the stories they produce.

We in the media must constantly be reminded that our duty is to serve the public in general that depends on our work, not the sources we cover.

As one old hand advised his reporters, “if your mother tells you she love you, check it out.”

Former Gazette publisher Allen Strunk was fond of asking reporters, as soon public officials left the newsroom after delivering compliments about a particular story, “OK, what did you leave out?”

Tuesday was National Constitution Day, and it falls to professional media to call out officials who would limit the freedoms its Bill of Rights guarantees, at every level of government.

Maintaining that delicate balance is difficult when you share a locker room at the health club with that official, sit in the next pew or run into them at the grocery store.

It’s only natural for those in power to shape public perceptions to achieve the goals they seek; that’s just part of their job. Thankfully, the vast majority we’ve encountered are honorable people who work for the public good.

But that same public depends on professional media at all levels to expose the truth so our representative government can truly function as it should.

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