The press has never been well-liked
We hear much these days about how nobody likes the press.
Certainly, the press is attacked with some regularity, and there are some differences.
For example, we’ve had presidents who hated the press — remember, Richard Nixon had an enemies list and many of the names were of reporters — but we’ve never had a president who accused it of being enemies of the people, or who repeatedly accused credible news outlets of simply fabricating stories. And the footage of Trump fans berating reporters at his rallies is pretty creepy.
The phenomenon has been aggravated by the national media’s response. While many reporters in Trump’s crosshairs have responded by redoubling their efforts and doing some of the best reporting ever, they’ve all too often taken to their fainting couches over how people regard them.
They’re not telling you something: It has been ever thus, or at least thus for decades.
My entire career, nearly four decades, the media’s approval ratings have hovered somewhere around those of people who eat puppies. As I said, there are some differences now, but we’ve never been on anybody’s most-loved list.
It actually started in the late 1960s with a guy named Reed Irvine and a group he founded called Accuracy in Media.
Irvine was one of the first to trumpet a supposed liberal bias in the media, which has always been a canard, and a pernicious one at that.
He founded AIM as a “watchdog group” over that “liberal media.” But given that Irvine was the kind of guy who believed that King George III was still alive and living in Argentina, his definition of “liberal” was, shall we say, overly broad. It was basically anybody who didn’t totally agree with conservatives.
Given that he came on the scene during the Nixon presidency, it was a fertile time for him. His message found a receptive audience among people who thought Nixon was getting screwed; remember, even on the day he resigned, he had significant public support.
It also played into a normal human impulse: Killing the messenger. In ancient Persia, it is said, when a messenger would bring the king bad news he would respond by having the messenger executed. Apparently, those messengers had lousy fringe benefits.
But a little Persian king lurks in every one of us.
And of course, every so often, we in the media shoot ourselves in the foot. Some idiot editor hires and promotes a fabulist, that new hire starts making up stories and it comes out.
The latest example comes from the German publication Der Spiegel, which has a pretty solid reputation. It’s recently come out that one of their writers had been making up stories for years.
And this guy was beyond brazen. He was sent to Fergus Falls, Minnesota, to do one of those interminable stories about why Midwesterners voted for Trump. He used the names of real people in town, but totally made up details about their lives and about locations in town. He wrote that you could see the local power plant from inside a local coffee shop that actually has no windows.
They dropped the guy like a bad habit, but the damage has been done; he’s one of those people press-haters will point to when they scream “FAKE NEWS!”
We reporters tend to get so wrapped up in fighting for truth, justice and the American way that we sometimes forget our business is like any other. Some of our colleagues are bad people.
And anybody who goes into my business wanting to be liked is a chump. I like being liked as much as anybody, but I know that when I call people for an interview, half the time their blood runs cold when I identify myself. Some of that is fear and some is just the prevailing climate around journalism.
I’m not saying that reporters, whether big national ones or small guys like me, shouldn’t be worried about things ranging from being heckled to being physically threatened.
A personal story: One time, at another paper, some drunk guy came into the lobby screaming about wanting “equal time.” I don’t know for what. But one of the ad salesman, a tall guy with a dry sense of humor, and I went out to confront him. We listened to him rant and the ad salesman said, “So, are you going to buy a subscription, or what?” Then he walked back into the inner office. The guy left.
I suppose I could’ve been scared, but I was young and dumb; the women up front were pretty freaked. But I’ve learned in the years since that 99 percent of the stupid, irrational people just want to cork off. Yeah, you’ve got to worry about the one percent, being attacked is unlikely and there isn’t much I can do about it when it happens.
As for the non-stupid, rational people, there isn’t much I can do to change their opinion of the media. All I can do, just like anybody, is to do my job as honestly and honorably as I can.
And you know what? That’s enough.
Tom Pantera is the news editor at the Wauneta Breeze. He has a passion for storytelling, obscure trivia and family. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org