For weeks after a new, mysterious virus emerged in China, the President of the United States downplayed the threat. Even as the first cases cropped up in the U.S., Trump brushed off the seriousness of COVID-19.
It will just disappear miraculously, he claimed. It won’t stand up against April’s heat, he told us. Everything’s under control, he said. We have it contained. His surrogates – the Kellyanne Conways and Larry Kudlows – reinforced this demonstrably false view.
Meanwhile, the conservative media – led by Fox – spread the same story. One Fox host even claimed fear of COVID-19 was drummed up by the mainstream media and the Democrats as another impeachment attempt against the President.
As of this week, they’re all singing a different song. The hero Trump has acted swiftly to stem the tide of the pandemic. In spite of stumbling blocks left over from a certain previous administration.
Fortunately, most of the U.S. had access to real information the whole time. And lots of it. Thanks to our remaining independent newspapers.
Unparalleled Coverage – Right When We Need It
Sure, we have news programming on local TV stations. And a half-hour of news on the major networks. But the independence of these news sources was lost long ago.
You see, TV news was once treated as a public service. The FCC granted you a license, and you took a financial hit to report actual news to your viewers. Today, network and local news programming is expected to generate revenue. So more and more of those precious 22 – 44 minutes (after ad time is subtracted) are devoted to appealing fluff pieces.
Broadcast news carries less and less actual news every year. So, there’s little time to go in-depth on any key issues. And when they do, ratings concerns dictate a degree of sensationalism.
Cable channels like MSNBC and CNN fare a little better. But they’re still driven by advertising revenue. Which means you’ll see plenty of fluff on these channels, too. And lots of “infotainment.”
Blogs and news sites on the Internet generally get their news from more traditional sources. They’re really commentary sites. Most just parrot what they’ve read on network news or newspaper websites. Without their sources they’d dry up.
But newspapers have a tradition of in-depth coverage. Of digging into stories that are important – not just sensational. And of even-handed coverage.
That tradition has held on during the current health crisis. I get more – and more in-depth – coverage of the COVID-19 story from my newspaper subscription than from any other source.
America’s struggling newspapers are still doing their job better than anyone else.
Freedom Isn’t Free
You know what’s interesting? How often network TV and cable news shows quote newspapers… and how rarely the opposite happens. If I had a nickel for every time CNN quoted the New York Times and the Washington Post, Bill Gates would be my pool boy.
In a world where newspapers are dropping like flies, they’re still ahead of the curve. If we let them die, our world will nearly go dark. And – make no mistake about it – far too many good papers are on life support.
Every time a local paper dies, Americans get a little less free. Because freedom isn’t free.
Do you want someone keeping your legislators honest? That requires oversight. There are plenty of folks eager to do it… But they have bills to pay. That’s why journalism is a profession… and not a hobby. That includes on the local level.
Do you want your children to inherit a democracy? Then you’d better be ready to pony up. Because defending against tyranny has a price. In this case, it’s the price of a daily paper. And, believe me, folks in countries without a free press can tell you freedom is worth it.
How Much Is Your Freedom Worth?
I pay $100 a year – less than $2 a week – for my freedom. That’s the cost of my online newspaper subscription. My wife pays a similar amount for her subscription to a second paper.
Is our democracy worth $200 a year to you? Or even $100? Chances are that’s a lot less than you spend on coffee or donuts each year. But it’s enough to keep scores of journalists holding the government’s feet to the fire day after day.
At least it is if enough of us care about freedom. Including freedom from disease. Because lies and misinformation about COVID-19 abound.
- Wearing a mask will not protect you.
- Drinking bleach will not cure you.
- Colloidal silver has no effect on this virus.
And, for goodness sake, hoarding toilet paper does nothing… Beyond pissing off your neighbors.
Of course, you’d already know all this if you subscribed to a newspaper.
[Full disclosure: This writer once worked for a newspaper – the now-defunct Haverhill Gazette. He probably qualifies as the worst paperboy in history. But even he couldn’t sink a decent paper in the 1960s.]