Home > Featured > Attacks on The News Media Are Attacks on Democracy (Opinion)

Attacks on The News Media Are Attacks on Democracy (Opinion)

By Bob Conrad
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona. Date: October 4, 2016. Image: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, Arizona.
Donald Trump Reno

Then candidate Donald Trump speaking in Reno in 2016.

To say running an online news source is a wild ride would be an understatement.

ThisisReno started in 2009. A group of local media professionals watched in dismay as our local news ecosystem was being decimated with staff cuts that dramatically affected the breadth and depth of Reno news coverage.

Alarmingly, those news networks failed to truly acknowledge the seriousness these far-away decisions made by their profitable, corporate owners had on our community.

I fondly remember my stint as a pre-teen, up to age 15, delivering not one but three different daily newspapers at various paperboy jobs. Print news today, though, has sadly become a snide anachronism in many instances.

That aside, our local TV stations continue to provide regularly breaking news for the benefit of the community. Want to know what’s going on, on any given day? Tune in to one of your lowly paid local broadcast reporters or local radio sources. We are a feeder market, and those personnel are frequently gone in a year or two, but they maintain the pulse of on-the-ground, local news. They deserve a thanks.

Our executive in chief regularly blasts the news media as an “enemy of the people.” ThisisReno has felt the effects of this kind of rhetoric. Our freelance reporters have been physically manhandled — by members of the political right and left — we’ve been called “fake news,” and we’ve even had people try to have others stop advertising with us because of personal or organizational slights, real or perceived, accurate or not.

We’ve been denied public records for months on end by incompetent bureaucrats or those, such as Governor Brian Sandoval’s Office, who tilt personal interpretations of Nevada’s Public Records Act toward their favor. Which is exactly against the spirit of the Act.

These things are to be expected.

You may have heard that, today, hundreds of media outlets are penning statements decrying President Donald Trump’s ongoing assault on the press. No doubt, his words are offensive to America’s commitment to press freedom, which is enshrined in the First Amendment and subsequent case law.

More galling, however, are his supporters — and opponents — who attack the press when it doesn’t fit their personal and political narrative. For many, it has become more a cultural norm, even an expectation, to do so. Newsrooms are being forced to hire security for their reporters so they don’t get assaulted or killed. That is insane.

The free press is necessary for democracy. It’s not perfect. We make mistakes. Honest news media acknowledge, correct, apologize if necessary, and move on, hopefully wiser and better. In fact, a cursory review of media law will show the importance of the right of the free press to be wrong. Again, this is enacted in the First Amendment and case history.

No doubt about it: The news media should be held to a higher standard; however, the insults, attacks, harassment, and wholesale ad hominem dismissals of the news media are intellectually shallow, serve only base human instincts of fear and anger, and are ultimately harmful to the very democracy these folks claim to represent.

Worse are those who wantonly sue news outlets when they feel aggrieved. (There are better, more effective ways to get your message across in the era of social media if one feels they are treated unfairly by the news media.) Rich, powerful people who try, and sometimes succeed, in shutting down the news media should always be viewed with grave concern. The reason is simple: America would not exist in its current form without the spirit of the free press, a press that was at its time vehemently critical of its government and those in power.

We all learned that in school as children. Press manipulators are not the antidote to freedom, but a hindrance to it by selfishly using and abusing the media to further their personal aims.

I don’t have a solution to the anxiety and angst we experience today, but despite our many imperfections, the news media remain vital for democracy.

Here in Reno, there are plenty of media sources to choose from. I’m partial to the independents: Reno Mom’s Blog, Reno-Tahoe Tonight, Downtown Makeover, Our Town Reno, Reno News & Review (Calif.-owned, but independent), Reno Arts News, Edible Reno-Tahoe, the many great locally produced podcasts, and at the state level, the Nevada Current and Nevada Independent.

Locally owned news is more historically in line with what our founding fathers knew, not the behemoth networks that have become the norm.

ThisisReno remains committed to our community, being truly local, and maintaining press freedoms. We hope that is of value to you, our readers.

Our tolerance for insults and attacks, however, is thin. And no, it’s not a First Amendment violation, or censorship, to moderate comments, ensure community standards, or to remove bad actors from being disruptive. By all means, become your own media source and shout your views from the rooftops. We did.

Readers should be skeptical of the news — I know I am; I even wrote a book about it — but attacking the news media because it’s politically fashionable is not a sustainable or remotely productive path forward.

Call us out for errors, missed context, incomplete coverage, lack of proper credit, or anything we may have screwed-up on. Criticism, especially if it is constructive, can make us better.

Harassment and assaults, however, negatively affect everybody’s freedom.

COVER IMAGE CREDIT: Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona. Date: October 4, 2016. Image: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, Arizona.

If you like what we do, may we kindly suggest supporting us financially by becoming a member?



Mark August 17, 2018 - 4:01 pm

I really think there’s an enormous distinction between denying public records act requests (violation of statute) and having politicians/elites bash the media. Violations of law are just that, violations, and they should be litigated and corrected.

Disagreeing with the media, and subsequently bashing it, actually seems to fall squarely under the 1st amendment. Surely the government shouldn’t step in and deny the free speech rights of the elites and politicians?

The media leans left of center, and probably the easiest graphic is from the Univ of Mich study (https://guides.lib.umich.edu/c.php?g=637508&p=4462444). According to the graphic, -0- represents unbiased audience/content and -10 is more left leaning and +10 is more right leaning. U of Mich work found all the mainstream media left of center, and it found it’s average respondent a little bit left of center, so it’s not a big surprise that left of center elites/politicians are more supportive of mainstream media and right of center are less supportive. We can all argue over the tone of the comments, but I really think the 1st amendment covers the speech and that shouldn’t be construed as an attack on democracy.

The media should be free to do its job, and the people (elites and politicians included) should be free to exercise free speech, whether or not there is agreement.

And I agree with you completely, there isn’t first amendment protection for comments or any right to publish on any given website, such as facebook or apple, for example. They can deny anyone, for any reason – they aren’t the government.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conrad August 18, 2018 - 1:00 pm

Mark, I’m not sure where you got the idea that I’m in any way advocating that folks shouldn’t criticize, or even bash, the news media when the article clearly says the opposite. The media’s political bias is well documented, and I’m encouraged by an increasingly diverse news ecosystem. What’s important is hotly debated speech that advocates attacks and assaults on the press, which certain people ARE advocating, up to and including the President. (I actually agree with some of his criticisms of the press, but not his crybaby way of going about it.) To your point about public records, etc. I’ve increasingly seen in recent years wholesale dismissals of the news media when they raise questions folks don’t want asked or simply don’t agree with. They, in turn, resort to Trumpian rhetoric in response. Surely when both left and right resort to calling us ‘fake news,’ it’s difficult to fathom this as more than a coincidence. PR people, activists on the street, government officials, and politicians are doing it. In just the past few months, our inquiries have been ignored, dismissed, and denigrated. This is from Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, IVDID the Washoe County Health District, the City of Reno, and, currently, the Washoe County School District which is refusing to answer a simple question because somebody somewhere in the school district “says” they don’t have to. Some of these responses, or lack thereof, are, as you point out, clear violations of the law. It’s bewildering and counter to the free flow of information. Anyhow, thanks for the comment. I hope this makes sense.

Michael Warren August 17, 2018 - 2:38 pm

It’s a sad commentary when those who follow a fake pied piper simply walk off the pier “thinking” they are correct and boy…they aren’t.

I’m a soon to be Reno resident from Phoenix, and I look forward to more of Bob’s contributions as this nonsense fizzles from the weight of stupid.

Long may logic win.

Elaine Hoem August 17, 2018 - 10:34 am

Wow, Bob. This is a great and important article. I think you nailed it in terms of standing your ground for a free press, encouraging others to set up their own media if they don’t like what you are writing, and reminding us that a free press is essential to a democracy. Good job!

cl dickinson August 17, 2018 - 10:24 am

And thats why CONTROL of the media (and censorship) is so damn dangerous. e THOUGHT it as going to be from right-wing big corporate….. Boy were we wrong on that one. I dont know HOW, or WHY, the left has gained control…. But its pretty plain to see just WHO is “steering” the population (but we kno the end result.. and its not pretty)

Benjamin Gaul August 21, 2018 - 9:48 am

Well said.

Norm Robins August 17, 2018 - 9:35 am

This essay by Bob Conrad was beautifully written and a joy to read. Thank you. I just signed up and donated to your cause. It is a worthy one. That said, like so many these days Donald Trump and the New York Times both overreact to what they read and hear. It is depressing to hear Donald Trump decry “fake news”, but not as depressing as it is to read and watch the constant barrage of slanted news that gives Hillary Clinton the benefit of every doubt, but never extends that courtesy to Donald Trump…never! There is so much going on in the world of great importance, but the mainstream press is forever bogged down in trivia. So Trump used the “n-word”, but probably he didn’t. So what? So who cares? Next week that issue will have been forgotten.

As far as the profitability of the press goes, years ago newspapers made their money in roughly equal amounts from subscriptions, want ads (rentals and jobs), and display ads (grocery and department stores). Then Craig’s List took over their want ad revenue, and the Web took over their display ad revenue, and two-thirds of their revenue disappeared. The press should have seen this coming and compensated for it with online revenue. They saw it in the yellow pages and they should have seen it in themselves as it was happening. I think you see it and are adjusting for it. Bully for you!

But again, this was a touching essay and a joy to read. Thank you.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conrad August 17, 2018 - 10:35 am

Norm, you are a scholar and a gentlemen. I appreciate your comments — and support! — even when you take us to task. Thank you!

Benjamin Gaul August 17, 2018 - 8:27 am

Interesting article. Well written. Well framed. Deeply biased. Showing no signs of changing that bias nor abdicating its lofty “We’re the Victims!” status.

A Free Press needs to be free of spin and slant if it wishes to be truly Free. Yet the modern Press is peopled almost exclusively by Leftist apologists with axes to grind and a specific narrative to maintain.

Evidence of this is easy to find and easier demonstrate; simply look at the percentage of negative press written about Trump. Most all major news outlets are nine or ten derogatory stories, to one slightly less condescending story. Genuinely positive stories about the booming economy, record low unemployment numbers, and reduced taxes are almost impossible to find.

News outlets had to reduce staff because ad revenue is down. Revenue is down because Readership is down. Readership is down because most people don’t want to be preached at by the Leftist echo-chamber. Sadly, most news types don’t know this, because they live in the echo-chamber. It is a rare individual indeed who can earn a degree in Journalism without being indoctrinated fully into the Leftist Groupthink Fifth-Column.

Perhaps, instead of casting blame on “others” for a lack of readership, a little more introspection and self-examination is in order.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conrad August 17, 2018 - 9:07 am

We don’t have staff and our ad revenue and readership continue to grow. It looks as if you did read the clearly labeled opinion, you’re failing to comprehend what was actually written in favor of cliche criticisms of the media.

Ryan August 21, 2018 - 1:31 pm

What, exactly, is the bias in this column? I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

But great job checking off every lazy cliche about the press in general. Your thought leaders will be proud.

Henry Sotelo August 17, 2018 - 8:20 am

Bob, from one proud UNR School of Journalism Graduate to another, thank you for this thoughtful and honest editorial.
Thank you for continuing to provide worthwhile and necessary news coverage via This Is Reno.

Jonjosef Holland August 17, 2018 - 8:12 am

Very well said. Thank you for all your hard work.

Cecelia Lynn Sumlin August 17, 2018 - 7:51 am

Thank you for writing this.

Nick August 17, 2018 - 5:33 am

Bravo Bob. Well put.

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