As journalists, we are typically reluctant to write about ourselves, or to inject ourselves into a story we are reporting. We have reached this moment in history, though, in which the news we report, and the newspapers we publish, have become the story—a story with dire implications for journalism’s future, the First Amendment that protects it, and the life of our democracy which relies on it.
“Fake news” is the rallying cry of a whole movement of Americans, who have determined that only the news they agree with – the news they choose to believe – is real. That’s really nothing new. The credibility and bias of journalists have often been called into question, particularly in times of political upheaval like this one. And sometimes, rightly so.
But the accusation of “fake news” has been given new heft by a president with a well-documented disregard for the truth, which attorney-in-chief Rudy Giuliani informed us really isn’t the truth. That statement alone hints at the sheer magnitude of the wall we are up against.
Last month, we were all urged to join a national editorial movement calling on President Trump to cease such hate-filled rhetoric, and stop painting journalists as the enemy. Many nobly answered the call.
The staff of the Capital Gazette, whose numbers had been so tragically diminished by a lone gunman’s attack on its newsroom just two months earlier, demurred. Reluctant to give any greater importance to the president’s words, their editorial board wrote, “We are far more concerned about what this community thinks of us.”
Instead, they encouraged the president to honor one of their fallen colleagues, Wendi Winters, with a posthumous presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, suggesting that he use the occasion to express his belief in the importance of journalism to our country, “even when he feels unfairly treated.” Nobler, still.
Gene Policinski, the president and CEO of the Freedom Forum Institute, cited the risk that the campaign might simply add more fuel to Trump’s accusation that “the media” is aligned against him. “…The ultimate – and effective – response in defense of a free press,” he wrote, “is in the work that simply proves the critics wrong.”
Last week at my office, that work meant writing about school convocation, and active shooter training drills on school campuses and at the hospital. It meant covering the more mundane news of budgets and tax rates, and a simmering controversy over the city’s sidewalk-building plans. Amid all of that, I saw my editorial window close and my print deadline arrive, and decided this enemy of the people still had work to do.
I thought of it again yesterday, though, when this letter to the editor arrived from a public school teacher, whose family had just marked a milestone event:
“I just wanted to send you a quick note to let you know how much your paper means to me.
I am sending Phillip off to college on Thursday and with him goes the end of a bit of a Cervantes tradition. My parents started the newspaper ice cream cone when I started school. Anytime my brother or I were in the paper, we were rewarded with a trip to the DQ for an ice cream cone.
That tradition continued with my kids. We even included my parents. One time, it even included my dad, who accidentally tripped the alarm at a local office when he was going to feed the cat, and it ended up in the blotter. No one but us knew it was him, but it got us to the DQ!
Last week when Phillip was mentioned in the article about the teacher convocation, I was a little teary-eyed as I knew that would be the last one as far as high school goes.
I can only imagine the complaints you must hear. If most people are like I am, they are filled with good intentions, most of which don’t get done. I didn’t want to forget to thank you for your help in our family tradition. Thank you and all of the staff for all you do for our community.”
Blotter reports, newspaper ice cream cones and family traditions….it was tough, in the face of all that, to feel like the enemy of the people. So this week, I took a deep breath, and just published another damn newspaper.
In writing this, my mind has been on a real enemy of the people—cancer—and its attack on our friend and fellow publisher, Chad Ferguson. We all join with Bebo and Chad, sending them our fervent thoughts and prayers, as they go forth in battle.