LETTERS: Expositor editorial a timely warning for our dark times

Press is not the enemy of the people, the press is the people

EDITOR’S NOTE: Following a share of the August 8 editorial with the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, the editorial has been since reprinted in the pages of the Carroll County Review in Thomson, Illinois.

To the Expositor:

Your editorial ‘A deadly challenge to the foundations of democracy is underway’ (August 8, Page 4) is a timely warning that we have entered dark times. When the US president calls the free press the “enemy of the people,” he is waging war on a pillar of democracy. The job of the journalist is to report the facts, to ferret out the truth, and to call out lies and half-truths. Trump attacks media like CNN that expose his deceitful tweets, and cozies up to the Fox TV channel, which has become his propaganda machine. He is using tactics that emerging dictators use. After nearly two years of this, newspapers have started defending democracy. As one headline says, “We are not the enemy of the people. We are the people.”

In Ontario, Premier Ford is adapting Trump’s playbook. He gets government employees to applaud at the end of press conferences to drown out reporters’ questions, a cheering squad paid by us taxpayers. He has even set up his own propaganda machine, a social media “Ontario news” site, complete with a government spokesperson who dishonestly pretends to be a real reporter. Guess what, it’s all news promoting Ford! And that is also paid for by us taxpayers. Like Trump, Ford doesn’t want the scrutiny of the press, he wants to control the message. Harper, who lost the last federal election, used another tactic, muzzling the civil service so that, for example, scientists were prevented from talking about their findings regarding climate change and its effects—because Harper didn’t want citizens to know that greenhouse gases cause global warming. It’s only a matter of time before Ford follows Harper’s lead. After all, he scrapped the cap-and-trade program that would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions, contrary to what climatologists are urging.

Propaganda works! It works in Russia, and it works here. People are being bamboozled into believing lies, and told not to trust real journalists. More than half of Ontarians are in favour of Ford scrapping the cap-and-trade program, never mind what the climatologists say, never mind that their prediction of extreme weather events is already coming true, never mind that our generation is polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide from fossil fuels.

It gets worse when you add in the effects of social media. Remember Facebook and Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 US election? Cambridge Analytica used the private Facebook information of millions of Americans to target for Trump campaign messages. Or take Russia’s cyber-warfare on the US, where Russians posed as regular Americans to boost Trump and bash Clinton. Remember the twelve Russian military staff who have been indicted for foreign interference in the election? Caught between his uncritical admiration of the dictator Putin and the findings of his own intelligence agencies, Trump reluctantly admitted that Russia interfered in the election. But since that admission he has renewed his relentless attacks on the Mueller probe into Russian interference as a “witch hunt!” Do people remember the headline “Trump admits Russia wages cyber-warfare” or do they remember “witch hunt?” Trump makes false statements about tax cuts, economic growth, the costs of NATO, trade with Canada and on and on.

Facts matter. Truth matters. But how long can democracy continue when those in power push their own propaganda, muzzle the civil service, shut reporters down when the truth is not to their advantage, and wage verbal attacks that have already escalated into violence? It’s scary. More people need to recognize the tactics Trump and Ford are using, and say “No!” because, ultimately, democracy itself is under attack.

Jan McQuay