Not all journalism is ‘fake news,’ Mr. President

It was less than a month into his term when President Donald Trump ramped up his “fake news” battle with several national media outlets, referring to them at that time as the “enemy of the people.” The rhetoric continues 18 months later as the term “fake news” now permeates all aspects of our national dialogue, becoming a catch-all phrase used by many to dismiss news reports that are truthful and accurate but that a person simply does not agree with.

It’s a step down a dangerous path for society as a whole. As such, we believe the time has come for President Trump to stop broadly using the term “fake news” to describe the news media as whole.

Using a wide brush to paint all members of the press as “fake news” — from national publications and broadcast outlets to community daily and weekly newspapers — is not only untruthful, it’s harmful to our democracy.

Here at The Sentinel, we take our mission to accurately report the news and serve our communities seriously. That’s a mission we’ve held firm to since our founding in 1903.

We’re your trusted news source covering the Juniata Valley, from local trials to borough council meetings to youth sports (just look at the level of coverage of the Mifflin County team at the Babe Ruth Baseball World Series despite being about 2,300 miles and three time zones away). We’ve built that trust over nearly 115 years with our readers by being fair, truthful and accurate.

However, we’re finding that some of our work covering issues of importance to the region now is being labeled as “fake news.”

Why? Because our role as journalists is to hold the powerful accountable. That can include, at times, being at odds with the actions of elected leaders of a local community or taking on top officials in state government.

Our mission has not wavered over the years. But today, when we take a position on our editorial page, or write a story detailing how tax money is being spent in a local community, we sometimes are accused of spreading “fake news.” That’s not only unfair, it’s flat-out incorrect and it’s harmful to our way of life in a free society.

We do make mistakes, and when we do, we quickly issue a correction. We agree that “fake news” — reporting that is intentionally untruthful in order to harm someone’s reputation — has no part in our business. Our goal each and every day is to provide our readers with a fair, truthful and accurate account of the happenings within our communities.

Our nation’s founders agreed with this approach, as they recognized that an aggressive, unfettered press is the best friend of a nation such as ours. They insisted upon it, in fact.

Congress — and, by extension, the executive branch — shall make no law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …” they mandated in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Ours is the only industry one will find mentioned anywhere within the document that serves as the basis for our nation’s government.

We also hear all the time about the “liberal media” being out to get Trump. And, again, while that may be true for some national media outlets who are more concerned about ratings than journalism, on our opinion page, we have regularly supported several of the president’s policies. At the same time, we have also made it known when we think the president has erred in his judgment.

That’s the very definition of being fair and balanced.

Throughout our history, presidents have been subjects of unfavorable reporting — and yes, sometimes inaccurate stories — by some in the press. Yet those presidents have stopped short of attempting to turn the American people against journalism at large.

Why? Perhaps because presidents both liberal and conservative have understood that the press is a self-correcting defender of our liberties.

Trump and some of his defenders insist he does not mean to tar all of us in the news media. But time after time in tweets and at political rallies, he points to the press — all of us — and lashes out.

By and large, journalism is a profession — especially at the local level — filled with good people with good moral compasses who are in it for the right reasons.

It’s not fair for these hard-working people who live in the communities they serve to be looked upon as anyone’s “enemy.”

To be clear, we’re not looking for the president to praise journalists. In fact, we have no problem with him calling out specific media outlets or stories that are not accurate. We just wish for him to stop labeling all media as “fake news” and to cease using inflammatory language that may encourage those who already wish ill upon journalists for whatever reason to act upon those feelings.

The President of the United States is often (and rightly) called “the most powerful person in the world.” As such, anything the president says or does is magnified exponentially.

Every word and action from the president is consequential to someone.

That’s why the time has come, Mr. President, to stop referring to all media outlets as “fake news.” It is an injustice to so many journalists out there doing things the right way.

COMMENTS