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Chris Honoré: The president's 'Fake News Awards'

“The Post” is now screening at the Varsity Theatre and it is well worth seeing. I’m tempted to use the word mandatory in that sentence because I believe that our democracy’s institutions are under assault. We have to know what we don’t know.

I had not planned on writing about the Fourth Estate. But then Donald Trump announced that he intended to hand out “Fake News Awards,” doubling down on his effort to corrode the opinion of Americans regarding the media, often referring to the press, in the words of Josef Stalin, as “the enemy of the people.”

This characterization was oft repeated at rallies and during interviews and has, apparently, had an impact. According to Gallup, 66 percent of Americans believe that news outlets blur fact and opinion. It is clear that “fake news” has become embedded in our national lexicon.

The idea of having an awards ceremony was hinted at last November in a tweet, the intent being to honor “the most corrupt and biased of the Mainstream Media.” It was originally scheduled for Jan. 8, but was moved to Jan. 17 because, according to Trump, “the interest in and importance of, those awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated.”

And so last Wednesday, using Twitter, Trump released his 11-point list of fake news organizations. He started with The New York Times, followed by ABC News, then CNN and Time Magazine, the Washington Post and Newsweek and five others. In truth, the entire list is not as important as Trump’s purpose, which was to denigrate an institution that is essential to our democracy. The list was attributed to “Team GOP” and began with a recap of Trump’s first year accomplishments.

Ironically, he has, for years, used the press to make known his own opinions. For more than five years he repeated in interviews that President Obama was not an American citizen and that he had proof. He once took out a full-page ad in a local newspaper regarding what came to be known as the Central Park Five. These were young men accused and then convicted of assaulting and raping a female jogger. Trump insisted they should be executed. He later fell silent when it was determined, using DNA and other evidence, that they were innocent. He has used the press to suggest that the popular vote that favored Hillary by some 3 million was fraudulent and formed a commission to prove that voter fraud was endemic to our electoral system.

When the history of this period is written, I would argue that the press will be credited for stepping forward and defending our democracy. Despite the mainstream media’s imperfections — and mistakes have been made along the way, stories printed that were less than accurate — it has been the press that has made every good-faith effort to inform the public. I deeply believe this, which is why it is more than unsettling to read that 66 percent of Americans do not share that conviction. That a majority of Americans would not understand that the media is one of our bedrock institutions to be supported and cherished is discouraging at best.

Regarding the Russia imbroglio, consider what would not be known had it not been for the solid reporting, which has been indispensable. I am also disheartened to know that in 2017, 65 journalists were killed and 262 were incarcerated. Of those 262, 194 were charged with “anti-state bias.” According to reports, Turkey, a member of NATO, leads in arrests of journalists.

I would also argue that Trump’s comments regarding the press have emboldened authoritarian regimes worldwide and the term “fake news” is now not uncommon, an example being the Philippines.

Returning to the film “The Post,” I suggested that it be mandatory viewing by all of us because, like today, the press demonstrated a degree of courage that will always be regarded as both memorable and historic. The movie happens to be about the Pentagon Papers. The Watergate scandal followed shortly thereafter and it was tenacious reporting that brought down a corrupt administration. We didn’t know what we didn’t know until we did.

— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.