Friday, January 15, 2021

Trump-supporting evangelicals may face a reckoning; it's a divide that should be explored by rural journalists

Pastor Bob Rodgers of Louisville cursed those who oppose Trump
and "have stolen this election." (footage captured by WXIA-TV)
In the wake of the Capitol riot, some Christian leaders are calling on fellow American evangelicals to consider how their overwhelming support for President Trump may have helped fuel the insurrection. 

Ed Stetzer, head of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, told NPR's Rachel Martin that evangelicals "sold out their beliefs" and seem to have changed their moral stances to accommodate their support for Trump. 

"Part of this reckoning is: How did we get here? How were we so easily fooled by conspiracy theories?" Stetzer said. "We need to make clear who we are. And our allegiance is to King Jesus, not to what boasting political leader might come next." Evangelicals must ask themselves why they were drawn to a candidate whose life and practices are not aligned with Biblical beliefs, he said. 

According to research, respect for an authoritarian leader was the biggest indicator of support for Trump among voters. That resonates strongly with white evangelical Christians, many of whom view the world through an authoritarian religious lens. 

Many evangelicals acknowledge Trump has moral failings, but believe he was chosen to work God's will on Earth, by appointing conservative, anti-abortion judges, for example. "Images and references to being on the march for Jesus were common at the massive Jan. 6 rally — and later, riot — including among a segment of American Christianity that believes it has the power of prophecy," Michelle Boorstein reports for The Washington Post. "Some experts say charismatic, prophetic Christians who operate largely outside denominations make up U.S. religion’s fastest-growing subset. In recent decades, millions have been increasingly seeking out these prophets and apostles on YouTube channels, in books, group prayer calls, via regular group text chats and at conferences where breakout groups practice faith healing and raising people from the dead. And nothing has focused this disparate, independent group like Trump."

This brand of "neo-charismatic" Christianity is different from earlier ones because it's invested so heavily in Trump, said Peter Montgomery of the progressive advocacy group People for the American Way, who has studied right-wing religious movements for decades. "Many of these prophetic leaders in 2015-16 said Trump was anointed by God, divinely assigned to save America and protect religious freedom," Montgomery told Boorstein. "And now with them believing that Trump is standing in the way of Christianity being criminalized in the United States, this is an existential moment."

To these Christians, who seek divine intervention, Trump's struggles in office are no deterrent to support. "The high-octane, emotional fight for Trump makes sense for these believers, who take the stories of Christian scripture literally and see daily life as a visceral struggle between God and the devil," Boorstein reports. "Spiritual warfare is constant. Signs and wonders are everywhere. So as time passes and Trump’s options disappear, God’s move to keep him in power will be even more spectacular — evidence even more likely to spark a religious awakening or revival." In other words, the worse things look for Trump, the mightier God will look when He keeps Trump in office. 

Some evangelical leaders who continue to support Trump are getting blowback, though. "A group of Louisville clergymen on Wednesday condemned a sermon by the pastor of the Evangel World Prayer Center in which he falsely claimed the 2020 presidential election was 'stolen' and placed a curse on those allegedly involved," Ayana Archie reports for the Courier Journal.

The Rev. Bob Rodgers had said: "Father, those that have lied, those that have stolen this election, those that have cheated, I place the curse of God upon them. I curse you with weakness in your body. I curse you with poverty. I curse you with the worst year you've ever had in the name of the Lord."

The Rev. Tim Findley of the Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center called the sermon "irresponsible" and "dangerous" in light of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Archie reports. Another Black evangelical pastor, the Rev. Mario Martin of Praise Nation Contemporary Church, said evangelical support of Trump advances "the spirit of white supremacy and white privilege through white prophecy," Archie reports. The Rev. Frank Smith Jr. of Christ's Church For Our Community said during the livestreamed presser: "I know there is much talk about the Christian right, but this is not Christian and this is not right."

UPDATE: David Brooks, a moderately conservative columnist for The New York Times, did some reporting and found a great divide about Trump "inside evangelical Christianity and within conservatism right now. As a conservative Christian friend of mine put it, there is strife within every family, within every congregation, and it may take generations to recover." Some excerpts: 
On the one hand, there are those who are doubling down on their Trump fanaticism and their delusion that a Biden presidency will destroy America.

“I rebuke the news in the name of Jesus. We ask that this false garbage come to an end,” the conservative pastor Tim Remington preached from the pulpit in Idaho on Sunday. “It’s the lies, communism, socialism.” . . . 
On the other hand, many Trump supporters have been shaken to the core by the sight of a sacrilegious mob blasting Christian pop music and chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” There have been defections and second thoughts. The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who delivered a prayer at the Trump inaugural, told his congregation Sunday, “We must all repent, even the church needs to repent.”

"This divide probably exists in most American communities. Rural journalists should report on it," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog.

Brooks concludes with some advice of his own, such as not tolerating "cyberterrorism within a community or congregation." He adds:

Others have to be reminded of the basic rules for perceiving reality. They have to be reminded that all truth is God’s truth; that inquiry strengthens faith, that it is narcissistic self-idolatry to think you can create your own truth based on what you “feel.” There will probably have to be pastors and local leaders who model and admire evidence-based reasoning, wrestling with ideas.

On the left, leaders and organizations have arisen to champion open inquiry, to stand up to the cancel mobs. They have begun to shift the norms.

The problem on the right is vastly worse. But we have seen that unreason is a voracious beast. If it is not confronted, it devours not only your party, but also your nation and your church.

Here's what's in Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion package to attack coronavirus, provide relief and stimulate economy

 President-elect Joe Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus and pandemic package Thursday night. Here's some of what's in the "American Rescue Plan," according to CNN:

  • $20 billion for a national vaccination program, to speed immunity and help the economy.
  • $50 billion for coronavirus testing, including buying tests, expanding testing capability, and helping schools implement testing; the hiring of 100,000 public health workers, expansion of community health centers and health services on tribal lands. It would also provide support for long-term care facilities experiencing outbreaks and prisons for mitigation strategies.
  • $1,400 stimulus checks per person to eligible recipients. Some who didn't receive earlier stimulus checks would be included, such as adult dependents and spouses of undocumented immigrants.
  • Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and end the tipped minimum wage and the sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities.
  • $400 a week in federal unemployment aid which, along with two key pandemic unemployment programs, would be extended through September.
  • $25 billion in rental assistance for low- and moderate-income households who have lost jobs during the pandemic. That's in addition to the $25 billion approved in December.
  • $5 billion to help struggling renters pay their utility bills.
  • $5 billion for state and local governments to help those at risk of homelessness.
  • Expand the federal eviction moratorium, set to expire Jan. 31, to Sept. 30, and allow people with federally guaranteed mortgages to apply for forbearance until Sept. 30.
  • A $25 billion emergency fund and $15 billion more for an existing program to help child-care providers, including family child-care homes, to pay for rent, utilities, payroll, and increased costs associated with the pandemic, such as personal protective equipment.
  • Expand the child-care tax credit for one year so families will get back as much as half of their spending on child care for children under age 13.
  • Boost the child tax credit to $3,600 for children under age 6 and $3,000 for those ages 6-17 for one year, and make it fully refundable.
  • Raise the maximum Earned Income Tax Credit for a year to nearly $1,500 for child-free adults, and raise the income limit of the credit to about $21,000 and expand the age range of eligibility to cover older workers.
  • Subsidize through September the premiums of those who lost work-based health insurance.
  • Increase and expand the Affordable Care Act's premium subsidies so enrollees don't have to pay more than 8.5% of their income for coverage.
  • $4 billion for mental-health and substance abuse disorder services.
  • $20 billion for veterans' health care.
  • Reinstate and extend through Sept. 30 the paid sick and family leave benefits that expired in December.
  • Extend the benefit to workers employed at businesses with fewer than 50 or more than 500 workers, as well as federal employees excluded from the original program.
  • People who are sick, quarantining, or caring for a child whose school is closed would receive 14 weeks of paid leave. The government would reimburse employers with fewer than 500 workers for the full cost of providing the leave.
  • $15 billion for a new grant program for small business owners, separate from the Paycheck Protection Program.
  • $35 billion for some state, local, tribal and non-profit financing programs that make low-interest loans and provide venture capital to entrepreneurs.
  • $170 billion to K-12 schools, colleges and universities to help them safely reopen or facilitate distance learning.

Quick hits: minor-league baseball getting squeezed by majors; FCC seeks input on pandemic telehealth program

Here's a roundup of stories with rural resonance; if you do or see similar work that should be shared on The Rural Blog, email us at

In an echo of rural-urban tensions, minor-league baseball teams are getting squeezed by their major-league counterparts. Read more here.

The myth of the "real American" stems partly from rural homogeneity, and it feeds the growing political rural-urban political polarization, writes a political educator and writer in an op-ed. Read more here.

New study, no surprise: Republicans who relied mostly on Trump for news are more concerned than other conservatives about election fraud. Read more here.

A former supervisor at a Western Kentucky coal mine has pleaded guilty to helping with a scheme to hide the threat of black-lung disease from federal safety inspectors. Read more here.

Rural communities in Oregon paid millions of dollars for clean, safe drinking water because the state didn’t protect their watersheds from logging-related contamination. Read more here.

A Michigan judge nullified a critical permit for an open-pit mining project that's been debated for nearly two decades. Read more here.

A free, online webinar series aims to help rural grocery store owners plan ahead so their store can stay open after they retire. Read more here.

The Federal Communications Commission seeks public input on administering the second round of its pandemic telehealth program. Read more here.

The Low Income Housing Tax Credit plays an outsized role in poverty-stricken rural areas, writes columnist. Read more here.

How will Joe Biden's Pentagon handle extreme right-wing news media? Read more here.

Vaccine hesitancy more prevalent in rural America

Kaiser Family Foundation chart, based on December data from KFF Vaccine Monitor; click on the image to enlarge it.

Rural Americans are among the most hesitant to receive the coronavirus vaccine, according to December findings from the Kaiser Family Foundation Covid-19 Vaccine Monitor.

"Getting shots into arms in rural Americans, most of whom see getting the vaccine as a personal choice and not a social responsibility to protect others, is a problem that will require tailored outreach and messaging. It underscores that a cookie cutter approach to vaccine hesitancy campaigns will not work," Drew Altman writes for KFF.

Farmworkers are in a priority group and are slated to get their shots  soon, but public-health officials worry that reluctance among such workers might delay herd immunity, Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder. A University of California Berkeley School of Public Health study this summer found that over 30% of farmworkers were unsure about the vaccine or unlikely to get it. 

Some rural health-care workers are reluctant to get the vaccine, too. Though hundreds of health-care workers in Atlanta, for example, are on waiting lists to get vaccinated, vaccines are sitting unused in freezers in rural parts of the state, Jonathan Raymond reports for WXIA-TV in Atlanta.

Food-chain workers share how the pandemic has affected them; local journalists can use story as a template

The pandemic has affected every part of America's food supply-chain, from farmworkers and meatpackers to restaurant and grocery-store workers. 

Eleven people who work in various parts of America's food supply-chain system shared with The New York Times how the pandemic is affecting them and others in their occupations. Local news media can easily use the Times piece as a template for a locally focused story. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Grants offered to veterans turned farmers; apply by Feb. 14

The Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund is accepting applications through Feb. 14 for small grants aimed at helping military veterans in their early years of farming and/or ranching.

The FVFF doesn't give money directly to farmers, but pays third-party vendors for items the veteran says will make a crucial difference in their business. Awards range from $1,000 to $5,000. Established in 2008, the nonprofit has provided more than 600 veterans with $3 million in equipment over the past decade. 

To be eligible, applicants must be honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. military, have an agricultural business in operation with a functional business plan, and must be willing to fully participate in the program, including progress reports and mentoring other farmer-veterans, and show a desire to make a positive impact on the farmer-veteran community.

Click here to learn more about the program, and click here to apply for a grant.

Registration open for March 22-24 AgriPulse Ag & Food Policy Summit; free admission with news-media credentials

Registration is now open for the AgriPulse 2021 Ag & Food Policy Summit, to be held March 22-24. The virtual event will feature three half-day sessions on the theme of "Climate Risks, Rewards and Uncertainties." Admission is free with press credentials.

"President-elect Joe Biden made action on climate change a key part of his campaign platform and has pledged to focus on climate in every federal agency. He’s not alone," said Agri-Pulse founder and Editor Sara Wyant in the event announcement. "Major food companies are already making carbon commitments and expecting farmers and supply chains to comply with a focus on sustainable and regenerative practices. Yet, there are a lot of different factors involved with getting the science, the economics and the cultural factors to align in a way that produces measurable and valuable outcomes."

The discussions will focus on research needs, potential costs, carbon payments, federal policy options, proposed regulatory changes and more. Invited speakers include:
  • Tom Vilsack, President-elect Biden's choice for Agriculture secretary
  • Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation
  • Chuck Conner of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
  • Elizabeth Gore of the Environmental Defense Fund
  • Rob Larew of the National Farmers Union
Click here for more information, including a longer list of invited speakers, or to register for the event.

CDC: Lyme disease far more common than thought

The U.S. had far more Lyme disease cases in the past decade than previously thought and is spreading to new areas, according to a new estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2010 and 2018, the U.S. had about 476,000 cases every year, says the new study. That's far higher than the CDC's previous estimates of about 300,000 cases a year.

The old estimate was based on insurance claims and lab test results, but the new study used more current information from a large database of commercial insurance claims, Catherine Roberts reports for Consumer Reports.

Ticks are living longer and spreading to new areas because of the warmer winters climate change brings. 

"Lyme disease isn’t the only tick-borne illness that occurs in the U.S., and different kinds of ticks inhabit different regions and cause a variety of diseases," Roberts reports. "So wherever you live, brush up on what sorts of biting bugs you need to look out for when you’re in tick-friendly habitat like grassy or wooded areas. The CDC provides guidance on the regional spread of ticks, and your local health department is also a good source of information on the ticks in your area."

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Rural America saw record levels of new coronavirus cases and deaths last week; see Daily Yonder's interactive map

Rates of new coronavirus infections, Jan. 3-9
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it; click here for the interactive version.

Rural America saw record numbers of new coronavirus infections and Covid-19 deaths in the first week of the year, "showing that a slight respite over the holidays was the result of interruptions in test reporting, not waning strength in the pandemic," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. Nonmetropolitan counties reported 232,239 new infections Jan. 3-9. "That’s a 35% increase from the previous week, when numerous states fell behind in daily coronavirus reports because of Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays. Covid-19-related deaths also set a record in rural counties last week, at 4,084." Metropolitan counties also saw record-breaking new infections last week.

Click here for more data, charts, and insights from the Yonder, including an interactive map with the latest county-level data.

W.Va. uses relationships with local pharmacies to distribute coronavirus vaccine faster than big pharmacy chains

West Virginia is outpacing the rest of the nation in coronavirus vaccine distribution because the state has taken more direct control of the process than other states, instead of relying on big pharmacy chains.

"All 49 other states signed on with a federal program partnering with CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate long-term care and assisted living facilities," Yuki Noguchi reports for NPR. "But those chain stores are less common in West Virginia, so the state instead took charge of delivering its vaccine supply to 250 pharmacies — most of them small, independent stores."

"We have a lot of independent pharmacies or smaller pharmacies that are in the more rural communities, so in order to get the vaccine out to some of those areas, we needed to follow something a little bit different," Gretchen Garofoli, an associate pharmacy professor at West Virginia University in Morgantown, told Noguchi. 

Harnessing existing pharmacy-nursing home relationships also helped speed things up. "Many long-term care sites in the state already use local pharmacies for other vaccines and medicines as well as twice-weekly coronavirus testing of residents and staff," Noguchi reports. "The state decided to piggyback off those existing relationships. Because those pharmacies already had data on many patients, it was easier to begin scheduling appointments in early December, securing consent forms and matching doses to eligible patients — logistics that are confounding efforts in many other states."

Federal rural hospital grants now available to 295 counties that are in metro areas but lack urbanized areas of their own

"The Health Resources and Services Administration finalized this week its proposal to modify the list of geographic areas considered rural in an effort to extend grant eligibility for hospitals," Alia Paavola reports for Becker's Hospital Review. "The new definition of rural area now includes outlying metropolitan-statistical-area counties with no urbanized-area population. These counties are now eligible for rural health grant programs."

HRSA's Office of Federal Rural Health Policy, which oversees the grants, says the change adds 295 counties to the list of those meeting the criteria. The rule change applies to rural health grants that begin in fiscal year 2022. Click here to see if your county is now eligible for HRSA grants. 

Pandemic's impact on restaurants, 17% of which have closed, could spell trouble for the meat industry

Restaurant closures and shifting consumer eating habits during the pandemic could cause turbulence in the meat industry.

Food service has traditionally accounted for 55 to 60 percent of meat demand, but people are cooking at home more due to the pandemic. Though demand remains strong, "long-term concerns of how consumers will react to limited options will continue to add uncertainty to beef, pork and poultry prices and have a significant impact on livestock markets and producers during the upcoming year," Rick Kment reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "Even though strong retail demand is expected to continue over the coming months, the transition back to 'normal' lives is expected to add even more uncertainty to the meat complex, but also could cause long-term market disruptions for years to come."

The meat industry has been able to bounce back from early pandemic levels over the past few months, but "concerns about the strength of demand through 2021 continue to grow," Kment reports. "The health and stability of the food-service industry is expected to have an even bigger impact on overall meat demand during 2021."

As of Dec. 1, 17% of restaurants — more than 110,000 establishments — have closed permanently or long-term during the pandemic, according to a National Restaurant Association study. Most were "well-established," averaging 16 years in operation, Kment reports. Another NRA study in early December found that total food and drink sales fell $2 billion in November, down nearly $12 billion from pre-pandemic levels. In the same survey, 83% of restaurateurs said they expect sales to decline more.

School nutrition group calls on Congress to make school meals permanently free for all public-school students

"Congress should permanently expand the school food program so that all public school students can eat breakfast and lunch for free, said the School Nutrition Association on Tuesday," Chuck Abbott reports for the Food & Environment Reporting Network. "The association said many school food directors expect to run a deficit this school year because of school closures and the higher cost of preparing and serving meals during the pandemic."

School meal programs support learning and foster healthy eating habits, so the change would boost academic achievement, health and wellness for students, said SNA President Reggie Ross in the recent position paper. The move would also eliminate the "costly, time-consuming" paperwork burden for parents and school districts. Along those lines, the paper proposed preserving flexibility on whole grain, sodium, and milk regulations.

The proposal also called for the government to provide emergency relief funds directly to school food authorities, since 62 percent of school nutrition directors said in a recent survey that they expect to lose money in the 2020-21 school year, and another 28% said they aren't sure what to expect. The December stimulus package included some funding for them, but it wasn't enough, according to the position paper.

The paper noted that school meal programs rely heavily on foods provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and calls for USDA to use data from fiscal year 2019 in deciding how much food to send to schools, because participation was way down last year. 

"Around 30 million students participated daily in the school lunch program in recent years, three-fourths of them eating free or reduced-price meals," Abbott reports. "USDA has not posted participation rates for school food programs during the pandemic. It adjusted rules so that schools could serve meals in the classroom, in cafeterias, or curbside for pickup and allowed schools to serve meals for free to all students."

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Media columnist writes that local news websites' poor design may undermine credibility, push readers away

In a Twitter thread Sunday, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan criticized local news organizations' websites, writing that poor design and user interfaces undermine their credibility and has likely driven readers to get their news from social media instead. 

"I'm a big fan and supporter of local news but god their websites are horrendous," Sullivan tweeted. "The overall statement seems to be 'we're gonna make this such a terrible experience that you'll never come back -- cool with you?'" 

Several journalists agreed. Kyle Pope, editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, responded: "This is one of the unmentionables in the (important) push to save local news, and why moving fast is so important: the more time that lapses, the worse the sites will get, as resources dry up. Then, even sympathetic people may start to wonder if they're worth saving."

Jason Joyce, city editor of the Madison, Wisconsin, digital newspaper The Capital Times, chimed in: "100% of journalists I know agree with this. Executives who established ad operations and incentives for reps have never understood it."

Cierra Brown Hinton, editor of Scalawag Magazine, replied that digital design often takes a backseat because print is usually a newsroom's primary product and advertising its main revenue: "We say digital transformation like it’s past tense; it hasn’t happened. In the digital space you’re not just competing w/other news you’re competing with every brand that wants attention."

Some commenters noted that many local newsrooms are obliged to use corporate-mandated layouts that are optimized for ads but deliver a lousy reading or viewing experience. "The average local site is in a template created by a chain, and most seem to do it on the cheap. People in local newsrooms complain but significant change rarely happens. Some corporate paymasters need to wake up," wrote Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog.

Other commenters added that local newsrooms, especially independent organizations, may not have the time, money or expertise to improve their website. "Good websites take investment and expertise — most local news sites have trouble affording that," wrote author Gwenda Bond. "One of the organizations supporting journalism should fund—or partner with a university on—a best practices study and open source design template."

Slow vaccine rollout will be explored in Thu. webinar with reps of Walgreens, nursing homes, workers and advocates

The slow rollout of coronavirus vaccines is in large part attributable to delays at long-term-care facilities being serviced by CVS Health and Walgreens under a federal contract. This is a local story in any place that has such a facility, and a webinar Thursday could help journalists cover the issue.

"A Shot in the Arm For Long-Term Care Facilities? Early Lessons from the Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout to High-Priority Populations" will be held at noon ET Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"People in nursing homes and other long-term care settings account for 6 percent of cases but 38% of deaths from Covid-19, a share that has remained largely consistent throughout the pandemic," the foundation says. Priya Chidambaram, a senior policy analyst at the foundation, will provide the latest data on cases and deaths in long-term care facilities. A panel discussion will follow, offering perspectives from patients, nursing-home operators, and pharmacy providers:
  • Rina Shah, vice president of pharmacy operations and services at Walgreens
  • Nicole Howell, executive director of Ombudsman Services of Contra Costa and Solano Counties in California, an advocate for long-term-care residents
  • Matthew Yarnell, nursing-home chair of the Service Employees International Union, which represents many nursing-home workers
  • Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association, which represents over 14,000 skilled-nursing facilities and assisted-living centers
The event is open to the public, and will include a question-and-answer session. Questions about it event can be addressed to

The Kaiser Family Foundation has a Covid-19 Vaccine Monitor, that tracks "the public’s evolving views about and experiences with" the vaccines, it says.

Police demands for unpublished images of riots at Capitol and elsewhere could put journalists in a difficult position

A door at the U.S. Capitol after Wednesday's riot. Getty Images.
Law enforcement agencies investigating last week's riot at the U.S. Capitol will likely demand that news organizations and individual journalists who covered the event turn over their unpublished photos and videos. That may put journalists in a sticky spot, especially since there is no shield law at the federal level, Poynter Institute senior faculty member Al Tompkins writes. And in states without shield laws, local protests could pose issues for journalists.

National Press Photographers Association General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher said journalists may face backlash for fighting to hold onto unpublished media. The public may not understand why journalists would resist such a demand, but Osterreicher noted that compliance could endanger journalists as a whole. "Police and prosecutors do not get to see our notes or our unpublished work. We do not want to be seen as an arm of law enforcement," he told Tompkins. "It puts journalists in a dangerous position when police wanted to see photos of protestors. It puts journalists in an even more dangerous position than just covering a dangerous story. If protestors think the journalists are creating evidence for the police, protestors target the journalist." That could apply to protests at the state and local level as well.

Still, Osterreicher noted that journalists he's spoken to agree it's important to identify the rioters in order to hold them accountable and to explore allegations that the rioters were infiltrated by left-wing or anarchist organizations. Many news organizations are voluntarily publishing extra images and videos to help others identify rioters, from USA Today to local newsrooms and networks. "Local news organizations and networks have also begun identifying rioters who have local ties," Tompkins reports.

The NPAA board of directors published a memo on Friday asking prosecutors to go after rioters who attacked journalists on Wednesday: "To do our jobs, photojournalists must be on the front lines to record the news. The threats, violence and aggression toward visual journalists are unconscionable acts that erode our democracy and our country’s First Amendment rights."

Vaccine roundup: database shows where Covid-19 patients can get antibody treatments

Here are some of the latest stories with rural resonance about the coronavirus vaccine:

The Department of Health and Human Services has created a searchable map and database showing where Covid-19 patients may be able to obtain monoclonal antibody therapeutics that can lessen the severity of the illness. Read more here.

In a Modern Healthcare podcast, reporters discuss the reporting and information verification process for reporting on coronavirus vaccine distribution. Read more here.

Is your local vaccine administration venue equipped to handle rare, life-threatening reactions? Read more here.

Delaying the second vaccination will make supplies last longer but comes with risks. Read more here.

In a nod to the Serum Run that brought diphtheria treatments to Nome, Alaska, in 1925, some clinicians in rural Alaska delivered coronavirus vaccines to remote villages via sled. (Sorry, Balto, these sleds were pulled by snowmachines.) Read more here.

Some rural areas report speedy access to vaccine, while others are still waiting. Read more here.

Public health officials have warned for months that they don't have enough support or money to quick distribute the vaccine. The slower-than-expected roll-out of the vaccine is proving them right. Read more here.

Monday, January 11, 2021

New data shows spread of virus in prisons, including among employees, who can be major vectors for it in rural areas

Coronavirus cases among prisoners. Chart by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press.

The Marshall Project
, in partnership with The Associated Press, has posted updated figures on the spread of the novel coronavirus among prisoners and prison staff in each state. 

That's important information for rural journalists, since prisons tend to be in rural areas, their employees are a major vector of the virus, and state governments' efforts to prioritize prisoners for the vaccine have sparked controversy among locals. 

There have been at least 84,291 virus cases and 139 deaths among prison staff nationwide, and 329,298 cases and 2,020 deaths among prisoners nationwide, according to the report.

The Marshall Project also just published an update to how each state is restricting prison visits during the pandemic. Click here to read it.

We can't let lies, mistrust and bad faith fester; we must speak the truth, stand up for it and have respectful dialogue

Millions believe the lie. (Getty Images photo)
By Al Cross
Director and professor, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week was driven by a mistaken belief, generated by President Trump and his allies, that the election was stolen from him. Millions of the president's supporters believe this lie, so it is damaging our republic by undermining faith in our elections, courts and other governmental processes. Journalism goes hand in glove with democracy, so what should journalists do about it?

That's a touchy question for journalists in most of rural America, which is a major part of the president's political base. Most rural news outlets stick to local matters and shy away from national controversies, fearing that weighing in would be bad for business or bad for personal relationships. But the readers, viewers and listeners of rural media are not only citizens of a locality, they are citizens of a state and nation, and the nation faces a fundamental threat from misinformation and disinformation. To ignore that is to ignore the responsibility of journalists and their paymasters to serve democracy and the citizens who are their neighbors.

Rural journalists, you know your neighbors, so you know the best way to present them with the truth. It can take the form of editorials, columns, and news stories about the views of local people and experts, though stories that simply present contrasting arguments and beliefs may not be very helpful. Neither are letters to the editor with baseless assertions. People have a right to their own opinions, but they do not have a right to their own facts, and journalism's essential role is to be the fact-finder for democracy.

Sadly, millions of Americans no longer have faith in journalism's essential role, because they have been misled into thinking that journalists at the national level are operating with a political agenda, and that feeling is becoming more common about local news media, through little fault of their own. That creates a pitfall for rural journalists who want to present the truth about the election, but that only calls for caution, not fear.

If I were back at one of my first jobs, running a weekly newspaper in a rural county that voted strongly for President Trump, I would probably start by publishing the speech that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave as the rioters were beginning their assault on the Capitol. McConnell had been the president's most essential ally in Congress, but once Trump's legal challenges had failed and the Electoral College had voted, McConnell publicly accepted Joe Biden as the legitimate president-elect. When a few of his colleagues defied him and objected to some electoral votes, he made clear what the facts were and what the obligation of Congress was. Some key excerpts from his speech:

“We are debating a step that has never been taken in American history: Whether Congress should overrule voters and overturn a presidential election. I have served 36 years in the Senate. This will be the most important vote I have ever cast.

“President Trump claims this election was stolen. The assertions range from specific local allegations to constitutional arguments to sweeping conspiracy theories. I supported the president’s right to use the legal system. Dozens of lawsuits received hearings in courtrooms across the country. But over and over, the courts rejected these claims, including all-star judges whom the president himself nominated.

“Every election features some illegality and irregularity and it's unacceptable. I support strong state-led voting reforms. Last year's bizarre pandemic procedures must not become the new norm. But nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale that would have tipped this entire election. Nor can public doubt alone justify a radical break when that doubt was incited without evidence. ... 

“If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’d never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years would bring a scramble for power at any cost. The Electoral College would soon cease to exist, leaving the citizens of entire states with no real say in choosing presidents.
[Those states would be mainly rural.]

“The effects would go even beyond elections themselves. Self-government requires a shared commitment to truth and shared respect for the ground rules of our system. We cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes; with separate facts, and separate realities; with nothing in common except hostility toward each another and mistrust for the few national institutions that we still share.”

And right there, journalists, is where we come in, as finders and presenters of fact. We need to help our readers, viewers and listeners understand and appreciate journalism, and how it differs from social media: Journalism is mainly about facts, not opinion, and it practices a discipline of verification; we say how we know something, or we attribute it to someone. Social media are mainly about opinions, not facts, and they have no discipline and no verification -- except in extreme cases like Donald Trump.

After McConnell spoke, and the rioters arrived and were ejected, Sen. Mitt Romney told his colleagues that they had an obligation to stand up for the truth:

“The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That is the burden, and the duty, of leadership. The truth is that President-elect Biden won this election. President Trump lost. Scores of courts, the president’s own attorney general, and state election officials, both Republican and Democrat, have reached this unequivocal decision.”

Yes, it is the burden and the duty of leadership to tell the voters the truth. That leadership should be exercised not just by national politicians, but by local journalists who are trusted members of their communities. Don't let your neighbors be divorced from reality.
UPDATE, Jan. 14: "No matter what the cost, I must tell you the truth," Kentucky editor-publisher Loyd Ford writes in his Lake News at Calvert City. "If you help perpetuate the lies of the President you are
complicit in his illegal attempt to grab power." Georgia editor-publisher Mike Buffington, who has run against his local political grain by criticizing Trump, writes in his column (registration required), "The Trump supporters who stormed into the U.S. Capitol last week finally did what four years of political opposition couldn't: They exposed the slimy underbelly of Trumpism in a way that is unmistakable and undeniable."

UPDATE, Jan 16: The notion that the election was stolen could be a long-term driver of violence, Greg Sargent of The Washington Post writes, quoting from a memo by federal security agencies about domestic violence extremists: "Amplified perceptions of fraud surrounding the outcome of the General Election and the change in control of the Presidency and Senate — when combined with long-standing DVE drivers such as perceived government or law enforcement overreach, and the anticipation of legislation perceived by some DVEs to oppose or threaten their beliefs — very likely will lead to an increase in DVE violence."

Local police around the country face heat for attending Capitol protest, riot; hacked Parler data could help ID them

"Police officers and at least one police chief from departments across the United States are facing termination, suspension or other discipline for their proximity to or alleged involvement in a chaotic gathering in Washington on Wednesday that ended in a riot at the U.S. Capitol and left five people dead," Kim Bellware reports for The Washington Post.

Some officers at the protest and/or the riot are from rural areas or small towns. For example, Police Chief David Ellis of Troy, N.H., has been criticized for his presence at the protest, though Ellis has denounced the rioting and treatment of Capitol police, Mia Summerson reports for the Keene Sentinel

Jason Riddle, a former corrections officer and mail carrier from Keene, was also present that day. "Riddle said he went to D.C. to participate in the protest, believing the election had been stolen from Trump. But despite being among those who entered the Capitol, and posting photos on Facebook, he described the violence he witnessed inside as 'chaos,'" Summerson reports. Riddle posted on Facebook that he plans to run for local office soon.

Two off-duty police officers from Rocky Mount, Va., were identified in riot photos, sparking a Black Lives Matter protest Sunday, Luanne Rife, Mike Allen and Karen Dillon report for The Roanoke Times. The officers have been placed on paid administrative leave while their department investigates.

Journalists soon may be able to see whether local law enforcement or other prominent local figures were at the protest or riot, or whether they were advocating violence online. A hacker reportedly archived almost all posts made on Parler Jan. 6, the day of the riot, Dell Cameron reports for Gizmodo. The hacker got virtually all of the content, including posts, deleted posts, the personal information required to register for an account, direct messages, and videos posted by users with GPS coordinates embedded in the data files. That identifies the whereabouts of posters who made the videos.

3 million K-12 students have dropped out of school since March, many in rural areas

Distance learning has masked (and in some cases caused) a quiet epidemic of students dropping out of school. "An estimated 3 million students may have dropped out of school learning since March, according to Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit that focuses on underserved youth. The group's study cited a lack of internet access, housing insecurity, disabilities and language barriers as major obstacles to attending virtual classes during the pandemic," Lauren Hodges reports for NPR.

Tracking underserved students is a perpetual problem for schools in both urban and rural areas, especially for students with little or no internet access. "They find ways to disappear when they don't want to be found," Karen Smith, a high school English teacher in rural Maryland, told Hodges. "Many of our students and even our faculty and staff don't have reliable internet . . . We experimented with portable wi-fi, and in our neck of the woods, that's not really a feasible thing because you have to have a signal to bounce off of. And in some cases, they're rural enough that they don't have that option."

See the Bellwether report for a state-by-state breakdown of the data, plus recommendations for reconnecting with such students.

Protests weren't limited to Washington, D.C.: many protested state and local governments

The protesting and (in some cases) invasion of government offices wasn't limited to Washington, D.C. last week. Protests were held in state capitals across the nation, along with some protests on the local level. A local government meeting in Shasta County, California, was overrun with protesters the day before the Capitol riots. The Shasta County incident sheds a spotlight on the views of many rural residents who didn't make the road trip to Washington, but agreed in principle with many of the Capitol protesters.

"The Shasta County Board of Supervisors had planned to meet virtually Jan. 5 because of an uptick in coronavirus cases. The supervisors’ chambers in Redding were closed. Seats had been removed. The public speakers’ microphone was disabled," Hailey Branson-Potts reports for the Los Angeles Times. "But, in protest, a newly elected supervisor unlocked the doors. In poured dozens of people, unmasked, to vent their fury. Three supervisors attending virtually watched from afar as threats flew amid the speeches."

In rural, northern California, an increasingly conservative region where many want to secede and form a new state called Jefferson, "the kind of anger and distrust of the government that Trump has fomented is on full display," Branson-Potts reports. "In some ways, the rhetoric in that officially closed county government facility carried a hint of the rage that would boil over 2,800 miles away when pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol the next day . . . Among the president’s supporters in Washington last week were men carrying the yellow-and-green State of Jefferson flag with its pair of Xs, called a 'double cross,' that represent a sense of rural abandonment."

Such protests and riots will likely happen again "because some residents believe there is great political utility in making government officials believe that potential violence could become all too real."

"In Shasta County, where Trump beat Biden by 33 percentage points, the supervisors’ meetings have become a prime venue for outrage. Accusations of treason and socialism are commonplace. So, too, is talk of revolution and civil war," Branson-Potts reports. 

"When the ballot box is gone, there is only the cartridge box. You have made bullets expensive. But luckily for you, ropes are reusable," Timothy Fairfield, 44, told the Shasta County supervisors last week. 

Carlos Zapata, who also attended the meeting, told Branson-Potts: "We have to make politicians scared again . . . If politicians do not fear the people they govern, that relationship is broken."

Supervisor Leonard Moty, a former Redding police chief, said local residents have becoming increasingly blatant about threatening government employees since the pandemic began, including announcing the home address of the county health officer: "They politicized the virus. The pandemic. You saw a culmination of it by a president who incited a whole group of people to march to the Capitol and do bad things. I think we have a number of people in this county who follow his voice. Who knows what they will do?"