Where's the Real Fake News?
By Jean Godden
There are all sorts of things I learn by reading newspapers. I check world news, developments in North Korea, Iran and Africa. I scan national news, reading about demonstrations in the nation's capital and the first delivery of merchandise (a frozen popsicle) via a drone.
Locally I inspect stories about attempts to save our Puget Sound Orcas, about the bizarre plane heist at Sea-Tac Airport and the Seattle City Council's vote to preserve the Showbox Theater for the next ten months.
My reading goes beyond world and national news. I also check community reports. Just last week I read a story in the West Seattle Herald about Ruth DeGabriele, a 98-old woman who once allowed her North Admiral home to be used as a neighborhood polling place. They wheeled in a voting machine and Ruth draped a table cloth over the washer and drier to make the place look more official.
It is amazing how much I can discover by reading newspapers. These are our windows to the world, to our nation and to our neighbors. They expand our lives and give us the resources we need to navigate our terrain.
And yet, for all the good that media do, the fact is that America's newspapers and news sources are threatened. President Donald Trump unleashed an unprecedented war of words 20 months ago. He targeted news and newspapers just weeks after occupying the highest office in the land.
Trump directed this war of words parroting the words "fake news" whenever he encountered a story not to his liking. He repeated the term "fake news" more than 400 times in his first year in office. He charged that news operations and newspapers are "the enemy of the people," a phrase seldom heard since it last erupted from Nazi propaganda machines.
Recently the president intensified his disturbing attacks on the media. He delivered an astounding display of anger and animus at a rally in Pennsylvania. He told a highly partisan audience that the media was engaging in "fake, fake disgusting news." He pointed at reporters and called them "horrible, horrendous people," saying "they only make up stories." During a scary, Orwellian speech in Missouri, he said that what Americans are reading "is not really happening." He encouraged his audience to boo the press.
The president's ugly rhetoric is what is really false. Newspapers, although never perfect, remain dedicated to documenting current events. Reporters are our watchdogs, protectors of the public interest and, most often, committed to truth and reality. The press that Trump tries to discredit is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the document that he swore to uphold. That amendment serves as the cornerstone of our liberties.
Sadly, the president's vendetta against the press is more than just an outrageous irritation. It is incendiary. When he hurls hate-filled invective at the press he encourages his followers to disrespect the press. By declaring open season on the profession, he fuels the hate mail and death threats that many are receiving. His continued provocations have the potential to trigger events like the killing of five journalists at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, in June.
The worry is that, if we do not call out the president's hate campaign for what it is, there will be more casualties. It is important to counter his deranged behavior and set the record straight. Whatever one's politics -- right, left or middle of the road -- there must be unity in protecting something so basic to our First Amendment freedoms. We ought not have to fight a war on behalf of the people who are doing the important work of opening windows on our world. But fight we must and this is one fight we dare not lose.
To invoke Orwellian is really a stupendous piece of irony, seeing that the press has been twisting truth like a pretzel, never missing an opportunity to put the president and Republicans in a bad light.
Just because you say claim to be ethical journalists, doesn't make it so.
Thanks, Jean Godden, for pointing out the importance of protecting the free press. Glad to see you are publishing opinions again!