Political discourse in our community and country is often loud, contentious, raucous, even rude. This is not new. It’s part and parcel of the great American experiment in self-government.
The news media are frequently a subject in that conversation, and that’s good. If we make a mistake, that’s fair game. If someone reads a political agenda into a headline or a story, let’s talk about it. Those in the political arena have always – always – used the media as punching bag. It comes with the territory.
Lately, however, the heated conversation has turned to a couple of phrases that need to be called out for what they are.
One is the label “fake news,” a phrase President Trump has used often from his bully pulpit. Presenting falsehood as the truth needs no such silly label. Lies are simply lies, and spreading them has no role in the work of journalists.
In reality, the term “fake news” has come to mean news or a set of facts that I don’t like, that don’t align with my political views or that run counter to my interests – so I choose to dismiss it. Again, it’s a free country, but that’s not a healthy attitude for any citizen. The world is a complex place, and some of the news is bound to be maddening day in and day out. Nothing wrong with that. But tuning out the plain facts isn’t good.
The more worrisome phrase – and a dangerous one – is casting journalists as “enemies of the people.” As journalists, we would be the first to say words have meaning. We’ve staked our careers on that idea, among others. This talk is more than just an attempt to undermine a free press for a sake of a short-term political agenda. Reckless talk demeans a community, at the very least. This rhetoric has emboldened people – we’ve seen it here locally – to say and write things that civil society in the past would have deemed out of bounds.
This newspaper has been doing one job for 120 years: Tell people what’s going on in town, and press a little more deeply every day about the how and why. Get the fullest version of the truth possible. Cover the football game, but cover the City Council too. Give people a forum to advise, criticize, praise or propose their own ideas. Offer our own thoughts when it’s appropriate – on this page, not in the news columns.
It’s also important to remember that this is a human process. We live here and have a stake here. You see us at the grocery store and at church. We pay our bills here, and we volunteer here. We approach our work diligently and do our best.
Being in that ongoing community conversation is at the core of what we do, and we’d like to think that in our better moments we are a voice that gently but consistently reminds everyone of some first principles: Everyone gets to talk, everyone gets to vote, and we abide by the results. We’re better off when we hear each other instead of talking past or over each other. Facts are facts, and good decision-making takes them into account. A community in the long run is always – always – better off knowing more, not less.