Sound Off: Media plays key role in preserving American democracy

  • Tuesday, August 14, 2018 2:51pm
  • Opinion
Obee

Obee

By Fred Obee

The plight of a grieving orca who continues to carry her dead calf for weeks is reported by the Seattle Times. The Spokane Spokesman-Review lets people know for the first time the Legislature is forming a task force to exempt lawmakers from portions of the Public Records Act.

The Columbia Basin Herald in Moses Lake warns that air quality for the county fair may be unhealthy because of wildfire smoke pollution. The Omak County Chronicle reports that Wally Richards is this year’s Omak Stampede grand marshal. The Nisqually Valley News in Yelm tells its readers where ballot drop boxes will be located so they can participate in the primary election. In the Port Townsend Leader, we learn about firefighter Reece Chambers and ways the community can support his family following his heart transplant.

These stories and many more all appeared recently in the pages of newspapers across Washington State as they chronicled the history of the communities they serve. For more than a century, they have informed, celebrated and lamented the good and bad of the schools, governments and people in their coverage area.

And these are the enemy of the people? This is fake news?

Of course not.

Yet in one way or another all journalists are being tossed into the anti-media waters being chummed by President Trump and others.

I do not write today to choose sides on the right or left of national politics. Instead, I write today on behalf of the more than 80 newspapers of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association as we join others across the nation in defense of our profession.

We witnessed President Trump’s June 27 rally in Fargo when he, throughout the course of an hour, taunted the media seven times, inciting jeers from the audience. This month at a rally in Pennsylvania, he pointed at reporters and called them “horrible, horrendous people.”

“They can make anything bad, because they are fake, fake disgusting news,” he said.

During a speech at a VFW event in Missouri, the president said that what Americans are reading “is not really happening.”

Even the VFW winced, saying it was “disappointed to hear some of our members boo the press. We rely on the media to help spread the VFW’s message. … We were happy to have them there.”

Yet some people believe the president and, unfortunately, the ugly rhetoric is sifting downward, settling even on small newspapers.

Yes, even in Washington State, newspapers are being called “fake news” by candidates, public servants and the people we cover as they seek to discredit news reports and create their own smokescreens in the face of news coverage they see as critical of themselves or their political beliefs.

Do not fall for it.

Newspapers are the first to admit they are not perfect, but on all levels they are serious about what they see as their core roles: documenting the daily and weekly history of our towns and serving as watchdogs to protect the public interest. If President Trump wants to dispute the criticism he gets from the press, he should try countering with facts and well-supported arguments that support his policies instead of spewing unfair and dangerous rhetoric from a rally podium.

Our free press supports the rights of people expressing every imaginable political viewpoint. It’s not fake. It is very real and it’s time our President recognized and supported this very basic and central concept of our democracy.

Fred Obee is executive director of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and a former editor of the Whidbey News-Times.

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