Calling news ‘fake’ is a step on the path to dictatorship

by Barry Johanson

The Sheboygan County Board named The Review’s News Editor Emmitt Feldner as one of its first “Citizens of the Year” because he writes factual news, not “fake” news.

Like all of us at The Review since 1895, Emmitt does the difficult job of reporting facts accurately.

Every time we hear the new President of our country call the press an “enemy of the American people” because of “fake news” we can’t believe our ears and think about all that is made possible because of factual reporting, all that is made better, all the bad things prevented. What kind of attack is being made—top down?

It’s the attack potential dictators always make. Shut down or strangle newspapers like ours, silence radio stations, blur or subvert TV stations, and—now—boost unverifiable “social media” where people only see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear and never have to find the nuggets of gold truth in the cold streams of reality.

Not long ago we received a letter which said everything in our newspaper was “biased”. The letter writer didn’t say what bothered them so to respond was like trying to respond to an archer who fires an arrow from cover.

So we asked are you referring to how we report about city, township, village and county proceedings, or about 4-H news, or weddings, legal notices for 17 county municipalities and school districts, sports for area schools, activities of everything from the Daughters of the American Revolution, the news of commercial enterprises, outdoors news from the DNR, classified ads from individuals, the names associated with convicted criminal activities, as well as the name of those honored for contributions to the community?

That’s just a short list of our factually-verified content.

As a fact-based media newspaper since 1895, these elements are crucial to our existence. When anyone implies that such reporting is “fake” it’s a stab at the very heart of what we labor at 24-7—facts about what’s happening all around us, close to home, where we live, work, play, love and die.

Yes, we are but a small member of the total news reporting operations of the world, but we are the part closest to you. Any media which can’t meet our newspaper’s standards of fact, truth, verification and restraint deserve whatever pots of hell they will eventually boil in.

For us to report “fake” news would be suicidal to our survival, and possibly yours. To us, this contrived concept of “fake” news being bandied about is a threat to all of you who trust that we do our best to gather and print true facts. If mistakes are made, we correct them ASAP. If we miss something you think important let us know so we can review the best approach.

On my desk is the auto-biography of Frank Gannett, a hard-nosed Scot whose newspaper legacy of daily publications is all around us in Wisconsin, including Sheboygan, Milwaukee, Fond du Lac and Manitowoc. Gannett’s book was given to my father Robert Johanson in appreciation for his reporting for the Rochester Times Union, one of Gannett’s first newspapers.

Gannett had no truck for false or fake. And we, although but a small companion in such a league, have never found reason to question that now huge newspaper chain’s noble and essential goal.

We can imagine old Frank and Bob firing thunderbolts at anyone who suggested newspapers were “fake” news.

To imply that reporters fear the wrath of barking dogs doesn’t begin to get at where they’ve trained their hearts to be. We call their assignments “beats” because that’s what they hear on the streets, in the meetings, at the events, in all the incoming messages—the beatings of all the hearts of those who make up our communities.

There is nothing “fake” about all that.

When the idea that facts or truth exist is called a lie, that the media is the enemy of the American people, then anything you want to say, hear or believe may be possible.

At that point democracy itself is placed on wobbly footing and demagoguery may take its place since the founding and uniting principle that all men are created equal is again called into question.

A National Public Radio reporter commented in a compelling way on Monday, Feb. 20: You can call a gun a black gun, a grey gun, or a small gun, but it’s still a gun which can shoot something. A “fake” gun, however, means it can’t do its thing.

Applying this to news means “fake” news isn’t factual news at all and is unable to inform about something. This isn’t referring to obvious expressions of opinion, perspectives or viewpoints. It’s about pulling the rug on reality, truth, facts and science.

This is so dangerous a divergence from our modern democratic tradition and rules of law that anyone who promotes the idea of “fake” news must be subject to even greater scrutiny, certainly not less.

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