It seems difficult some days to get what are typically referred to as “the media” to agree on whether the Sun rose from the East or the West, so different are our perspectives.
Upon one point, though, there is large-scale agreement with only minor dissent: Donald Trump poses the largest democratic threat in memory to the craft of journalism’s efforts to perform its role.
Journalism, most days, is less of a job than a service. It houses less of an agenda than its detractors theorize; our work is more driven by a determination and an objective of greater transparency and insight. The media’s ambitions are to represent the public as surrogates, as curious and inveterate premium-seat spectators of power, and as voices for those who have not the privilege of seeking answers to important questions.
Thus, as we have seen frighteningly in recent times in several countries, media pose a risk to ideologues and demagogues alike, for they call their babies ugly at inopportune moments and pose discomfort at uncomfortable times. We are not there to get along and coddle, but to build communities by watching and asking when there is an abiding reason, and democrats on the right, left and in between have understood this principle of open society for centuries.
But Donald Trump hasn’t.
And in his short shelf-life as more than a New York tabloid-friendly businessman, we have had to ask: Is he racist? Is he misogynist? Is he corrupt? Is he of sound mind? Is he undermining world order? Is he anything approaching presidential?
Presidents before him have gulped, sighed, sworn and taken the heat under the sweltering lights of the cameras. But Trump is a different species; he has doubled down on fabrication, sown tribalist fury and dared call media—the very representatives of those who elect—as an “enemy of the people” as purveyors of “fake news,” a term he tosses out to describe whatever he finds disagreeable.
That there are Americans who believe this is, I suppose, a responsibility of everyone: not only the officials who manipulate, not just the public that does not take time to examine, but the media themselves for not making their case as essential ingredients in the mix.
It is an acute issue for those amid the Trump camp who feel recently disenfranchised by everything from personal choice to globalization, but it is a phenomenon familiar to ethnic, indigenous, female, gay and other less privileged communities that have felt little if any validation by mainstream media of their institutional discrimination.
Today, hundreds of news organizations will do what we are doing: raise their concerns that Trump’s bluster is a threat to a free press, is a threat to all politics and quadrants of life, to the cornerstones of civil society, and not least of which to the physical well-being of the practitioners.
In such hostile and condoning circumstance, it is risking lives.
You, as our readers, have a choice.
You can determine that what we do will ride out the anti-intellectual appeasement to the ill-informed for a stretch of time that will ultimately pass in the night and be riddled with ridicule in retrospect. You can take lightly the tweets, the podium fulmination, the daring of the crowds to jeer and vilify those there to chronicle the spectacle of the speeches, and the outrage of the rhetoric.
Or you can defend us, as part of defending yourselves, from an onslaught of unprecedented disinformation, guileless lies, and coarse divisiveness that will splay the delicate fabric of society that politics ought to strengthen.
It is not in media’s hands. It is in yours.
What I hope is that responsible journalism will find a more valuable, appreciated place in your midst, that you will recognize that what we attempt to provide is of value that you do not wish to suffer or lose. What I also hope is that bringing wider attention to this matter will help those among us who have served in good faith—particularly those below the border—in averting further abuse and intimidation.
History has many examples of this period of media-baiting as the beginning of the end of what we hold dear. And if it can happen in America, it will surely continue to happen elsewhere.
Today, well-meaning people have to stand united to end the violent, rights-restricting episodes out of conscience for the wider goals of discourse and accountability. There is little other choice.
Press freedom is your freedom, too.
Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver Media Group and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.