Everyone invested in the future of American democracy and freedom of the press should read, preferably twice, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Trudy Rubin’s Op-Ed in the July 23 La Crosse Tribune, “A free press can never be taken for granted.”
Rubin is a veteran observer of foreign affairs and policy-making. She has developed independent sources of information worldwide, and is unafraid to tell it like it is.
Rubin’s Op-Ed begins: “Earlier this month, President Trump addressed a group of so-called ‘digital leaders’ invited to a social media summit at the White House. The guests included far right social media activists linked to white nationalists who spew out racist and anti-Muslim messages. They included individuals who produce fake videos, use hoaxes to smear Democratic candidates, and disseminate dangerous conspiracy theories. … ‘The crap you think of,’ Trump said to the group, ‘is unbelievable.’ He meant this as a compliment.”
When hate messages receive praise from the president of the United States, and when he uses “unbelievable crap” as a compliment, we’re witnessing support for the absurdist propaganda style used by the government in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
Taking aim at America’s fact-based media, Trump has been on the attack.
One month into his presidency, he labeled the news media “the enemy of the American people.” A few months later, he defended Russian President Vladimir Putin against allegations of killing journalists and dissidents, dismissing these accusations with “We kill people, too.”
I find that response chilling, and it serves as a reminder of the risks journalists take in reporting inconvenient truths.
Rubin’s essay documents a worldwide trend toward the erosion of democracy. Governments increasingly dominate the news with false narratives and messages of hate. Social media amplify these. And then democracy withers, with the fabric of society being ripped apart.
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Cable network news outlets provide some very solid journalism, but they also tend to load up on brash opinions that push aside thoughtful and well-reasoned ones. With their near-constantly streaming “breaking news” data bits, cable news programs can drown out the news with noise.
I would like to give a shout-out to our print news sources. Two in particular deserve our support, for different reasons: the Washington Post, and the La Crosse Tribune.
The Washington Post, and its fact-checking team in particular, is worth its weight in gold. Glenn Kessler and his colleagues take every questionable public statement they can find, made either by Republican or Democratic officials, and document in great detail how well or badly each claim stands up against the known facts.
Its Aug. 12 report is extraordinarily difficult to read without concluding that President Trump has turned the White House into a falsehood factory. “President Trump has made 12,019 false or misleading claims over 928 days,” the article’s headline reports, indicating that the president deviates from the truth at the astounding rate of just under 13 times per day.
The Post team has documented more than a thousand false or misleading White House claims about the economy. Similarly, they have itemized more than a thousand inaccurate Trump statements about the investigation into Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections.
Under our constitutional checks-and-balances system of government, Congress has the responsibility to set limits on abuse of power by a president. Can you think of a single time that either Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), or our own Sen. Ron Johnson voiced a correction to any one of the president’s 12,000-plus counterfactual statements? Thank heavens for the fact-checkers.
The second shout-out goes to the La Crosse Tribune. Yes, it’s gotten thinner in recent years. Cable and broadcast networks and free online content have diminished newspapers’ revenue. The Tribune nonetheless does three things uniquely for us:
- It serves as the newspaper of record for the Coulee Region. Our births and deaths; marriages and divorces; purchases and sales of properties; the meetings of our City Council — these are the lifeblood of a community, and it’s the Tribune that reports consistently on this vital flow of events.
- Our morning paper and its online versions give us a quick first overview of major statewide, national, and international developments.
- It provides well-reasoned, fact-based Op-Ed essays from a wide range of perspectives.
The daily newspaper cannot be matched by any other media in its ability to give us the overall news grounding that we need.
As Trudy Rubin spells out clearly, freedom of the press is now very much under attack. We, the American public, can fight back by supporting fact-based print journalism.
Ron Malzer is a retired psychologist and freelance writer; you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.