By Al Cross
, Director and Professor
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky
As editor and publisher of The Rural Blog, I have tried to keep it almost entirely fact-based, with no advocacy, except for issues that advance the cause of journalism as a servant of democracy, such as open-government laws. And for the sake of fairness and credibility, we have tried to balance our Monday fact-check items between those critical of Democrats and Republicans. Today, the former imperative outweighs the latter one.
As I told the Rotary Club in Bowling Green, Ky., last week, there is a war on journalism in this country, waged by people who want to discredit sources of news and information that are unfavorable to them, and to set themselves up as the preferred source of information for their followers. You may think is just about the national news media, but we have reported example after example
of how distrust of journalists is having an effect on rural and community journalists and their employers.
That's why journalists at all levels need to be concerned, and speak out
about, the latest series of Twitter posts in which President Trump blames the division in our country on the news media. We have become so accustomed to this invective that many of us just ignore it, but now the stakes are higher, because the division has led to death.
The deadliest attack
on Jews in American history, Saturday's shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, was perpetrated by a man who had posted frequently on social media about the "migrant caravan" that has become a key pre-election talking point for Trump, who has used immigration as an issue from the day he entered politics.
Earlier, a Trump fan in South Florida was charged
with sending pipe bombs to several prominent Trump critics, and a white man in Louisville who had tried to enter a predominantly black church killed
two African Americans at a Kroger and told a man as he left, "Whites don't kill whites." The shooter has a violent history, but police branded it a hate crime. The reasons for the shooting are unknown, but it fits a pattern
of increased violence linked to racial and religious prejudice.
So, our fact-check for today is this: There's no proof that the president's rhetoric is causing more violence, but there is circumstantial evidence. His accusation that anger is caused by "inaccurate and even fraudulent reporting" by the news media is completely unsupported by evidence. The fraud is being perpetrated on social media, which have no verification, not by journalism, which practices a discipline of verification
and corrects its errors. Trump's tweet appears to be a reaction to critics who blame him for the violence; they have been quoted in news media, or have offered their views on broadcast shows that offer more opinion than fact -- and add to the confusion between the two. The president seems to be capitalizing
on that confusion between reporting and commentary.
One responsibility of journalists and their employers is to prevent confusion, through clear and factual reporting and responsible commentary. An increasing responsibility is to explain how journalism works
, and to defend it
from irresponsible commentary. Community journalists, who are close to their audiences and remain credible among them, are in the best position to do that. Do it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "said 'it’s hard to know' if the heightened political rhetoric in the Trump era and during fiercely contested midterm elections are an impetus for violent hate crimes," Ronnie Ellis reports
for CHNI News Service
“The political rhetoric is always pretty hot before an election,” McConnell told Kentucky reporters Monday. “But I think the whole tone in the country right now needs to be ratcheted down, and these horrible, criminal acts only underscore the need for all of us to dial it back to a more respectful place.” Ellis adds: "But when a reporter asked the Senate president if Trump’s off-the-cuff comments on Twitter and at his campaign rallies may have contributed to the climate of disrespect, McConnell walked away without answering."