The Fourth of July is the seventh anniversary of my purchase of the Methow Valley News. Each year, I’ve written an anniversary column, reflecting on the time I’ve spent here, the things I’ve learned and what I’ve taken away from it all.
This year I don’t feel particularly celebratory. As I’m writing this, coverage of the deadly shooting at a Maryland newspaper is still building momentum. Much is being said about the shooter, the causation and how the media are treating the horrific event.
I can assure you that every working journalist in America is grieving and somberly reflecting on events at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, where a determined gunman with a longstanding grudge against that newspaper methodically killed five employees. Many of us are thinking, “That could be me.”
That’s reality, not paranoia. In the Trump era of super-charged hostility against the news media — and the implicit violence against journalists suggested by the president of the United States — you bet we’re worried. Trump has tacitly endorsed attacks on the media, especially at his rallies, and has said repeatedly that those in the media are “the enemy.”
You can argue direct causality between the president’s enmity and last week’s shootings. But words matter, especially from the top. They filter down and are taken seriously by people who don’t like honest reporting. As Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote a few days ago, “Trump’s attitude has infected the entire culture, emboldening other public officials to trash press rights.”
Most of us who have spent much time in this business have been threatened with lawsuits, bodily harm or worse. More than once, someone has promised to hurt me, or kill me, or sue me, or make me sorry I ever put words on paper. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened to me in the Methow Valley. I’d like to think we’re a more rational place. And yes, I’m grateful for seven wonderful, gratifying years in the valley. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
It’s easy for me, and thousands of my peers, to identify with the Capital Gazette victims. The people murdered in Maryland worked for what is essentially a community newspaper — not a big national print or broadcast outlet. The overwhelming majority of journalists in the United States work for similar publications, devoted to intensely local coverage. They write about school boards, city councils, fires and police activity, community events, local politics, prep sports and cute pet tricks. They are not especially well paid, they work long hours on erratic schedules, and they do it for love of the profession and a sense of contributing something to the societal good.
The same could be said for the Methow Valley News, and for hundreds of weeklies across the country. We are covering our communities, connecting our citizens, keeping an eye on government and celebrating the best of wherever we live.
For that, we are vilified as “the enemy.” You may say that Trump doesn’t mean us, but rather those huge outlets that cover national and international events. I don’t buy it.
The first thing Fox News did when it reported the Maryland shootings was to research whether, in their view, the Capital Gazette was a biased newspaper — implying that the victims maybe deserved to be killed if that was the case. The Fox reporter earnestly assured viewers that it was just a normal community newspaper, reporting community news. As if that was unusual. But first, Fox suspected that the victims might be ideologically suspect from the alt-right fringe point of view so, you know, of course they were shot.
Leslie Stahl of “60 Minutes” reported that in a conversation with Trump, she challenged him about his continuous attacks on the media. His response: “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.”
His carefully scripted, disingenuous remarks about the Maryland shootings aside, the president clearly wants to discredit every one of us, at every level of journalism. When he does that, he puts us all in the cross-hairs.
This past weekend, I downloaded guidelines provided by the American Society of Newspaper Editors: “Tips to help keep journalists safe under fire.” It’s the responsible thing to do, I’m sorry to say. I guess now we are like Russia, Mexico and the banana republics.
Maybe you won’t be shot at for doing your job. But you should be worried. If the free press falls, everything else will fall, and we will all be living under Trump’s raging tyranny.
Who will be left to report that?