Opinion

And now a message from a free and grateful press

From the Editorial Board

Beloved American writer Mark Twain wrote, “There are some excellent virtues in newspapers, and some powers that wield vast influences for good.”
Beloved American writer Mark Twain wrote, “There are some excellent virtues in newspapers, and some powers that wield vast influences for good.”

We won’t mince words, this Thanksgiving could be dicey. Forget the “kids’ table.” Break out the red and blue tablecloths and divide the clan accordingly.

Still, here in the land of news and opinion cubicles, we’re thankful for the jobs we get to do even in this most contentious of years. Scratch that — especially in this most contentious of years.

The rhetoric of fear soared to such apocalyptic proportions during Election 2016, any sign of reason or good faith got chased out the door.

And that fear continues to dominate American conversation; election results did nothing to temper the flame. If anything, post-election fear and score-settling seem to intensify in some quarters.

Candidate Donald Trump plugged right into it. America, he said, was getting stolen away from us by immigrants, foreign powers, bad trade deals and liberal elites.

But that was the bombast of an unscripted candidate; his status has since changed. Soon he will have the big desk, the mighty pen and the weight of the world on his shoulders. He will also have two-thirds of governorships as well as the statehouses and majorities in the Senate and House.

Whether his governance rises above his campaign rhetoric remains to be seen, but as it does with every presidency, it will fall on the free press to keep any abuse of power in check.

It might provide some comfort knowing candidate Trump’s attempt to stoke fear in the press failed.

When he mocked reporters and called them “sleaze” and “third rate” or when he boasted about changing libel laws making it easier to sue journalists, we didn’t flinch. If anything, threats against safeguards and First Amendment rights make us more resolute.

When candidate Trump said he kept a list of news organizations and journalists whom he thought treated him unfairly, we prepared to write “Spartacus” on all our name tags.

This past week President-elect Trump met with anchors and executives from TV for an off-the-record “reset.” Though Trump-friendly media said the president-elect severely scolded those present, Kellyanne Conway, a Trump adviser, described the meeting as “very cordial, very productive, very congenial.” Hey, at least they talked.

Trump also met with The New York Times this week and when asked about future antagonism, he said, “I think you’ll be happy.”

His devaluation of the press is troublesome. A recent Pew survey found only half of Trump backers agreed a strong democracy depended on a strong free press. According to a Gallup survey conducted in 2015 only 40 percent of the public puts its trust in the news.

The tabloid press, wildly partisan talk radio, and broadcast and cable news surely share significant responsibility for the skepticism. They built their brands on the adage: “If it bleeds, it leads.” A new one has since emerged, “If it shocks, it rocks.”

This is not true of local print news. We hate to brag here, but we’re not afraid to risk boring a reader in the interest of enlightening. We do our best to translate the complexities of both local and global events in the most engaging of ways, but sometimes the minutia can be more sedative than a big turkey dinner. Still, we print.

And speaking of turkeys, we aren’t afraid to skewer a few. If an editorial of ours isn’t making someone mad somewhere, we aren’t doing our job. We aren’t a vast, polite-wing conspiracy trying to make friends here. We have one allegiance and that’s to transparency and truth.

Mark Twain once wrote, “When I build a fire under a person, I do not do it merely because of the enjoyment I get out of seeing him fry, but because he is worth the trouble.” We heartily second that thought.

Politicians should never look to the press as allies, and when they package up cynicism and try to sell you on the idea that there are two Americas, one that’s deplorable and one that’s not, resist the urge to buy.

We can say with certainty that good people have Trump bumper stickers and good people have “I’m with Her” bumper stickers.

Each day our letter boxes fill up with messages from people who haven’t given up on the conversation. They see the world from different perspectives, but they care enough to engage with their neighbor, and it’s that engagement, that connection with fellow citizens that unites and inspires.

Democracy is fragile and fallible; it demands a vigilant press and a public with high standards for office holders. When it comes to political abuse, the only real antidote is disclosure and public opinion. We’re thankful for our part in keeping malfeasance in check.

This Thanksgiving, we encourage you to invite reason and good faith back to the table. And consider this our humble reminder that they can be delivered to your home or digital device each and every day.

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