Celebrating 150 years of never keeping our collective mouth shut
Wednesday, February 01, 2017 8:21 AM
In recent years, concerns expressed at the annual Minnesota Newspaper Association convention, which was held last week in the Twin Cities, centered on technology. That theme has faded from prominence in recent years as most newspapers have come to terms with the changing electronic environment, which can still include ink on paper as a means to provide information.
As the state association celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, though, a new threat has emerged. It isn’t exactly a new threat, but an old one that has emerged again — freedom of the press.
The first crack in the foundation of the press appeared during the contentious campaign for president. “Fake news” became common on social media, leading many people to share lies that caused confusion about reality.
Fake news isn’t really a good description because there never was any news in these posts, just what should have been obvious falsehoods disguised to look like real news. The motive wasn’t to spread lies, but to make money by inventing preposterous, but enticing, headlines, hoping people would click on them to get to a bogus website set up to make money per click. The motive was purely financial, not political, but since passions were so high during the election, partisan supporters became an easy target.
Next in line was the phrase “alternative facts” used by Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway during a “Meet the Press” interview to defend White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s false statements about attendance at Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration.
That was played for quite a few laughs during the convention last week. Even though it is humorous on its face because it is so preposterous, it has been a constant issue lately as the new president often has a different view of reality than others as evidenced by not only the size of crowds, but other things such as illegal voting.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the daughter of former Star Tribune reporter Jim Klobuchar, had a more serious take on this when she addressed the convention, which featured several speakers.
“I think we know, and you know, the important role the press and the first amendment play in our democracy. Thomas Jefferson said that our first objective should be to leave open ‘all avenues to truth.’ And the most effective way of doing that is through ‘the freedom of the press.’ That rings especially true today when people are claiming ‘alternative facts.’ There are just facts, there are not alternative facts. It is your job to find them and I think it is the job of elected officials to use them and cite them,” Klobuchar said.
Just before the convention, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, and later President Trump, called the media “the opposition party” of the current administration.
That is a strong statement, but really not too far off the mark. Although the press shouldn’t be an obstacle to the administration, it also should never form a partnership, either, to act as a mouthpiece for the president. There will always be some tension between the press, which wants to provide all relevant information, and government, which in some cases wants to protect its image.
However, Bannon went one step further and claimed in an interview with the New York Times that the media “should keep its mouth shut.”
Klobuchar also took issue with that statement, saying the American people “deserve the truth and we are all relying on you to keep digging for it. As a child of a journalist, I take this personally and seriously. Our democracy depends on you to have the freedom to do your job and to do it well.”
Most members of the MNA are small newspapers like those in Bluff Country Newspaper Group. The declarations of the administration won’t directly affect most MNA members.
However, journalists have a common bond with shared principles that apply across all sizes of operations. Also, presidential actions carry enormous symbolism that extends far beyond the specific items addressed as evidenced by the uproar over new immigration policies.
Our newspapers shouldn’t have to remind people this, but our goal, as always, is to print real news full of substantiated facts. We won’t be an opposition party, but we will take the sides of our readers in any conflict with government. We want to provide as much information as possible so our readers can make informed decisions on the local issues facing them.
In other words, we won’t keep our mouths shut.