‘Fake news’ rhetoric must come to an end

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.

Mr. President, it’s time for the “fake news” and “enemy of the people” talk to end. You have stated in the past that not all news is “fake news,” but people everywhere are now using the term as a broad brush to paint all members of the media as producers of news that is made up — from national publications and broadcast outlets to community daily and weekly newspapers. It is not only untrue; the rhetoric is harmful to our democracy.

Here at The Leader-Herald, we take our mission to accurately report the news and serve our communities through steady, consistent leadership more seriously than ever. That’s a mission we’ve held firm to since our founding in 1887.

We’re our readership’s trusted news source covering this region, from municipal meetings to high school graduations to local parades. We’ve built that trust over nearly 131 years with our readers by being fair, truthful and accurate in all that we do.

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 watchdog journalists is to hold the powerful accountable. That can include, at times, being at odds with the decisions or policies of elected leaders of a local community or taking on top officials in state government over how our taxpayer dollars are being spent.

Our mission has not waivered over the years. But today, when we take a position on our editorial page, or write a story detailing spending irregularities, or report on a local official who may have crossed some sort of boundary, we often are accused of spreading “fake news.” That’s not only unfair, it’s flat-out incorrect and it’s harmful to everyone’s way of life in a free society.

We do make mistakes, and when we do, we quickly issue a correction. “Fake news” 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 local 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.

In the First Amendment of the Constitution, it mandated Congress, and, by extension, the executive branch, shall make no law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

Throughout our history, presidents have been subjects of unfavorable reporting — and yes, sometimes, inaccurate stories — by some in the press. Yet none has attempted to pit the American people against journalists to the extent that you have, Mr. President.

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

President Trump, and some of his defenders, many of which are a big part of The Leader-Herald and its subscriber base, insists he does not mean to tar all of us in the news media. But time after time, that is exactly what is happening, whether intentional or not.

As we noted earlier, Mr. President, it’s time for the “fake news” and “enemy of the people” rhetoric to end. Whether you realized it or not, the attack on national news outlets has been very damaging to small town newspapers as well, which employ many local residents. It does not serve the American people nor our subscribers who have turned to us time after time for accurate news and have faithfully supported The Leader-Herald their entire lives.