During a Lafayette City Council meeting on Aug. 7, mayor Christine Berg tore into a recent article in the Colorado Daily and Daily Camera about vendors who told a reporter that attendance had slipped at the Lafayette farmers market. Berg railed against the story as being “slanted,” charging that it was meant to “bash” the market.
“I find it unfortunate that facts don’t matter sometimes,” Berg said.
And then her colleague, Councilwoman Alexandra Lynch, joining the attack, uttered the poisonous words that have become a battle cry for a growing movement, launched by the country’s own president, to discredit, bully and silence members of the free press: “Fake news.”
The media has always had its detractors, but the current strain of attacks against journalists, the one that cuts at the foundational freedom they’re granted by the First Amendment to report the news, was spawned by then-President-Elect Trump, in tweets like this one from December 2016: “Reports by @CNN that I will be working on The Apprentice during my Presidency, even part time, are rediculous (Trump’s typo) & untrue — FAKE NEWS!” Not a month after Trump’s inauguration, the president called CNN, The New York Times, NBC News and “many more” media outlets “the enemy of the American people.”
As the year progressed, Walmart earned national attention for selling T-shirts that read, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.” The notion that the press is a subversive, treacherous force has continued to gain currency, and the message has coarsened. Earlier this month, Trump tweeted that the “Fake News … purposely cause great division & distrust … They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!”
While just 22 months ago, it would have been unthinkable for a president to use such language, now it has infected the treatment even of local media and tarnished journalists covering routine community events. The permeating reach of Trump’s anti-press campaign is evident in overt expressions of hostility, such as on the Lafayette City Council. But more often it’s expressed in subtle and more pernicious ways. Local journalists say sources more frequently refuse to speak to them or ask to interact only through email, which erodes the quality of reporting they’re able to do.
This is deeply distressing to the reporters, photographers, editors and other staffers at the Colorado Daily, Broomfield Enterprise, Colorado Hometown Weekly, Daily Camera, Longmont Times-Call and other Prairie Mountain Media news sources. These professionals in recent years — toiling in a difficult industry and a downsizing company — have endured career hardships for the sake of a line of work they view as a calling, only to find the integrity of their efforts called into question.
Besides being unfair to local journalists, the influence of the president’s invective is dangerous. That is why we join The Boston Globe and scores of publications across the country today in publishing editorials in response to Trump’s attacks and denouncing what the Globe calls a “dirty war against the free press.”
The journalists whose work you find in this newspaper are profoundly devoted to fulfilling the role of a free press in local communities. They know that what they do comes with grave responsibilities. The misspelling of a name or misstated figure in a story can leave reporters crestfallen. They are deeply sensitive to the effects their reporting might have on story sources and subjects. Their primary goals are accuracy and objectivity. Every reporter. Every story. Every day.
Consider for yourself if recent work by local journalists amounts to enemy action:
Reporter Shay Castle published a series of stories, “The Inclusion Illusion,” about the persistence of racism in Boulder. She spoke with black residents and community leaders who described troubling instances of racism they’d experienced in a community thought to be tolerant and progressive. The series struck a nerve. The conversation it started still is going, as can be seen in letters to the editor in the Daily Camera that weeks later continue to discuss the issues raised by Castle’s stories.
Fossil fuel extraction is one of the biggest issues on the Front Range, and local reporters including Jennifer Rios, Charlie Brennan, Anthony Hahn, Karen Antonacci, Sam Lounsberry and John Fryar have published numerous stories just this year on drilling activities in Broomfield and Boulder counties and the north metro area. Fryar, for example, recently covered a discussion about whether fracking under Union Reservoir has the potential to contaminate water at the popular recreation site.
Mitchell Byars is on the cops and courts beat, and every day, he monitors what local law enforcement is up to. This is a vital service without which readers would be in the dark about crucial matters of crime and punishment. Byars recently reported on the case of Michael Dodson, a University of Colorado police sergeant who pleaded guilty to felony stalking. In July, Byars’ reporting revealed that Dodson, two months after he had pleaded guilty, was still on paid leave and had received more than $83,000 in back pay.
If you want to know what government officials are doing on your behalf, if you want to know how your tax dollars are being spent, if you want a better feel for the social and political textures of your community, local journalists are working to provide unbiased, researched, factual answers. Any claim to the contrary is, in a word, fake.
If you could see local journalists during daily standup meetings in the newsroom, if you could hear the conversations between reporters and editors and photographers about stories they’re working on, you would be proud to be a reader. You would be assured that their work is truthful to the greatest degree possible. You would be thankful.
And if you could acknowledge that these journalists are fellow participants in a democracy and believers in the First Amendment — not for their own job security but for the freedoms it ensures — you would understand them as good friends, whose work defends against true enemies of the American people.
Carol Wood and Quentin Young: twitter.com/carolwould and twitter.com/qpyoungnews