Newsprint Tariffs and Fake News Mantra a Threat to Democracy

By Adam Stone

With the cascade of scandalous national news relentlessly flooding our minds these days, it would be easy to understand having missed the headlines about the outrageous, needless and industry crushing tariffs on newsprint. 

The Trump administration has imposed punishing tariffs on Canadian newsprint, triggering an enormous rise in print costs for publishers, leading to the thinning out of newspaper staffs across the country, the reduction of print schedules, and, in some cases, the ceasing of publication all together or the looming threat of the end.

Although the tariffs are theoretically in keeping with the administration’s wider trade war, it’s impossible to ignore the climate in which the unwarranted tariffs were imposed: one in which the president assaults the Free Press and, in spirit, our cherished and Constitutionally protected First Amendment rights each day. 

That’s why Examiner Media’s opinion pages are joining with editorial boards across the country this week to spotlight the cynical attacks and stand together in defense of our profession and the critical role it plays in educating the public, watchdogging elected officials and, in so doing, breathing life into our democracy.  

In an environment where nearly all political debates are conducted within perceived partisan constructs, it’s frustrating to know that championing a Free Press — a value as American as apple pie — is viewed in some circles as a left of center proposition. Those who maintain that position should realize that an undermining of journalism, in the long run, will impede free and independent reporting voices from across the spectrum. 

Of course, this isn’t to say media outlets are above reproach or without faults. To the contrary, it’s absolutely vital for critics of the press to monitor journalistic content carefully and shine a bright spotlight on inaccurate reporting and shoddy journalism. But we have arrived at a place where any unflattering report gets characterized as “fake,” while the president uses the Stalinist phrase “Enemy of the People” to eat away at the credibility of credible journalists. Although the sustained and frighteningly successful attacks have mostly been targeted towards national media outlets, the overall effect is an eroding of trust in all news gathering organizations, from big city TV news stations all the way down to your friendly local community newspaper.  

Just last week Ipsos released a startling poll revealing that one in every four Americans say they believe “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior,” including a plurality — a terrifying 43 percent — from the president’s political party.

To be sure, media outlets, like all human institutions, can be deeply flawed. But to take that fact infinitely further, and falsely dismiss nearly all American journalism as literally “fake,” is to propagate a lie so enormous and so consequential that it’s impossible to calculate the damage it will spawn. Also, to acknowledge the media’s shortcomings is not to acknowledge the growing but dangerously false notion that most professional journalists are fictional storytellers or, as the president says, “very dangerous and sick.” In actuality, the overwhelming majority of American journalists are ethically minded, striving to be fair and, in a very substantial way, serving a patriotic professional mission to keep citizens informed and the government in check — after all, journalism is the only profession our forefathers knew to explicitly protect in our Constitution, enshrined in our treasured First Amendment. From the brave war photographers risking their lives on the battlefield to the reporters covering local town board meetings, journalists serve an indispensable role in American life and deserve respect. 

Citizens from across the country, of all political stripes, must stand against the systematic attacks on journalism and journalists. Our democracy’s ability to breath healthily depends on it. 

Adam Stone is the publisher of Examiner Media. 

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