Are Community Newspapers Suppressing Liberal Opinion?

Are Community Newspapers Suppressing Liberal Opinion? August 23, 2018

I recently wrote this op-ed piece below and submitted it to my state’s (South Dakota) two major dailies, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and Rapid City Journal. Both, which have published my op-eds before, rejected this one without explanation, and one declined — twice — to even respond to my inquiry seeking an explanation of why it felt the piece was inappropriate (I didn’t ask the other, and the editor didn’t offer).

newspapers suppress opinion
Reading news in tabloid and tablet. (Matthew G, Flikr, CC BY 2.0)

I didn’t even submit the piece to my smaller local daily, the Mitchell Daily Republic, which long before had virtually banned my political op-eds, deemed too progressively edgy by the publisher.

Not that I’m Leon Tolstoy and that everything I submit for publication should be embraced as golden, but I’m retired from a 40-year writing career in journalism and corporate public relations, so I’m not a rank amateur, either. Therefore, I suspect the wariness of these publications regarding my anti-Trump opinions may have less to do with a lack of fair play and professionalism in my writing than a deep resistance to any oppositional political ideas, especially if sharply critical of the president or other federal elected officials (all Republican in my state).

I also suspect this purposeful editorial suppression by Republican-leaning media of politically unwelcome ideas is caused by two factors: (1) conservative publishers and editors who predominate in the “local-news” industry, which comprises, after all, businesses, see progressive ideas as naturally antithetical and detrimentral, and (2) these fast-declining media are necessarily obsessively concerned with not upsetting or possibly losing any remaining readers (i.e., drivers of revenue) by publishing potentially disquieting op-eds contrary to their existing and largely pro-Trump views (which pretty much reflects most rural South Dakotans’ views).

Throughout the nation, I fear, this kind of debate-stifling censorship of Democratic ideas is happening largely under the public radar at newspapers large and small, in cities and hamlets. Such views are allowed in brief, less-visible letters to the editor but not in much longer, more explanatory op-eds. The net result is that citizens are unwittingly trapped in a kind of limited-information bubble where the conservative newspapers (and probably local TV stations, too) — which is to say most — feed them primarily a diet of Republican-flavored opinion with their largely neutral, bread-and-butter news coverage. I doubt half the electorate or more even know about much less understand any of the reasoning behind Democratic opinions on the issues of the day.

Whither the Fairness Doctrine?

Back in the day, when the Fairness Doctrine reigned, it nudged TV and radio broadcasters to at least make a stab at consistently bringing a balance of opinion to their viewers. And newspaper op-ed pages seemed far more diverse marketplaces of ideas than they are now. But now we have the politically and culturally responsible New York Times and partisan-knife-fight Breitbart, and courtly, rational National Public Radio vs. Fox News, which is virtually submerged in a sea of thinly reported right-wing, conspiratorial nonsense.

This matters, because the very concept of “truth” under the Trump administration is under assault from sea to shining sea to the extent that we now (as I did earlier in this sentence) sometimes put truth in quotes to explain what we mean. Take this disturbing exchange between anchor Chuck Todd and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani on the Aug. 19 edition of “Meet the Press.”

Giuliani: “When you tell me that [Trump] should testify because he’s going to tell the truth and he shouldn’t worry, that’s so silly — because it’s somebody’s version of the truth. Not the truth.”

Todd: “Truth is truth.”

Giuliani: “No, it isn’t truth. Truth isn’t truth. … truth is relative.”

My question is, how will Americans learn the whole truth and not the “truth” if they routinely only get only half of it, or less? In what media are both sides of a question presented fairly in good faith.

My still-unpublished op-ed below was my attempt at balancing the unhealthy diet of real Republican fake news and alternative facts we’ve been force-fed since even before Trump took office. And the unconscionable complicity of our South Dakota congressional delegation, by staying silent, in purposefully helping to make sure the president’s assault on substantive reality continues unabated.

And don’t just take my word for it. Today’s editorial in The New York Times (“Congress, Do Your Jobs.”) and an op-ed piece by Times columnist Charles Blow (“Search Your Souls [What’s Left of Them], Republicans.”) basically confirm what I’m saying in my proposed op-ed below:

Silence from S.D. Congressional Delegation Deafening

An open letter to South Dakota’s congressional delegation:

Dear Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds, and Rep. Kristi Noem,

We understand your quandary.

We really do.

We totally get it that South Dakota is a ruby red state. That Donald Trump captured a whopping 61.5 percent of the votes here in the 2016 presidential race, compared with only 31.7 percent for Hillary Clinton.

We are not stupid. We know that your “base” is Trump’s base because our state is Trump’s state and that you have to keep those people happy if you want them to vote for you next time around. And we know you hope to leverage his power, however noxious, to get your agenda through. That’s politics. A no-brainer, considering the impressive Trump numbers here in the heartland.

But it’s a bargain with the Devil.

Because while you dither, this president, who has enormous popularity with a large, aggressively disgruntled minority, is currently tearing our beautiful country apart. And he doesn’t seem to care one whit about you, us or the nation’s honor.

We know you know this full well, because, unlike the vast majority of white, under-educated and disenfranchised folks that comprise most of Trump’s base, you are very-well-educated, sophisticated in the ways of politics and the world, keenly aware of the reality of things, and, more importantly, aware of the present unreality.

And we know you know how dangerous this is to each of us individually and to the country as a whole.

Please don’t continue to equivocate. Like us, you, too, watched as the president threw America’s top intelligence official and our entire intelligence apparatus under the bus recently in Helsinki, Finland, as he told the world he preferred to believe the president of arch-enemy Russia over the veteran U.S. intelligence professionals who have spent their adult lives, often in harm’s way, keeping the country safe. He said he didn’t see any reason why Russia would be hacking our election because dictator Vladimir Putin “very strongly” said it didn’t.

Mr. Trump thus demeaned and betrayed our nation and, as such, every American in a most despicable, dishonorable way — even a “treasonous” way, in the view of former CIA chief John Brennan (whose security clearance was removed last week in a pique by the president who can’t tolerate criticism). Other former intelligence chiefs share Brennan’s concern.

The president’s behavior is dangerously un-American, in a word.

And it’s not like this is a rarity. You’ve been right there with the rest of us, starting with the Trump campaign, grimacing (if you have the class we think you do) at every embarrassing, indefensible utterance and behavior. We’re sure you cringed and were disheartened when there was scarcely any effective blowback, while his cursing, red-faced “deplorables,” as Clinton labeled them, urged him on.

We really, really hope you inwardly felt a twinge of ignobility when each of you failed to robustly and unambiguously call President Trump out when he said it’s OK even macho for men (specifically himself) to sexually assault and degrade women; denigrated captured war heroes (e.g., Sen. John McCain) because they got captured or weren’t white; insulting immigrant American war dead; applauded as “fine people” white supremacists, whose purposely intimidating march in Charlottsville, Virginia, last year resulted in the killing an innocent young woman; revealed his innate racist attitudes by accusing a Hispanic-American judge of bias against him because of race, and called Mexican immigrants “rapists and murders”; plus separated immigrant children from their families for strategic spite. Forget about the “shithole countries” (his phrase) he despises.

Then, after the president’s appallingly un-American turn in Helsinki recently, all you could rouse yourselves to do was reiterate what everyone on the planet except Trump sycophants already knew: the Russians, with destructive intent, interfered in our 2016 presidential election.

You have said nothing about the fact that Mr. Trump accepted Putin’s denial over irrefutable official American evidence to the contrary and said — clearly, at a joint press conference with Putin — that he just couldn’t see why Russia would do such a thing.

Then, and this is important, he returned to the U.S. amid a torrent of criticism and in prepared public remarks said he never said that. We misunderstood, he said. A typo of the tongue, he insisted.

But those of us not in thrall to this slithering demagogue know exactly what he said. It’s on film in both instances, for goodness sakes.

Please, guys. You’re killing us here with your silence.

For crying out loud, say something.

You’re supposed to lead us, not hide.

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