The final days of 2023 produced a blizzard of fundraising letters and emails. Quite a few of them came from news organizations making the case that journalism is essential to the preservation of democracy and needs financial support to survive. (Our own nonprofit partner, the Local Journalism Project, was one of them, and the response has been heartening. We are now interviewing applicants for next summer’s journalism fellowships, which the LJP pays for.)
The most striking of these pitches came from Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor and founder of the Economic Policy Institute. He wrote on behalf of The Guardian, the British daily with a U.S. edition, to which he contributes a regular column.
Reich is unusually blunt in criticizing mainstream media, including the New York Times and Washington Post, for helping people to feel “disgusted with politics.” He says that the responsibility of a free and independent press is not only to report facts but also to exercise judgment about what is worth reporting.
“That judgment is especially important,” he writes, “as America faces an election in 2024 in which one of the two likely candidates was engaged in an attempted coup and has given every indication of wanting to substitute neo-fascism for democracy. Again and again, the mainstream media has drawn a false equivalence between Trump and Biden — asserting that Biden’s political handicap is his age while Trump’s corresponding handicap is his criminal indictments.”
This apparent pursuit of “balance,” Reich says, leads readers “to assume all politics is rotten.”
It’s a dynamic that fuels the anti-democratic fire, he points out: “Trump and his allies want Americans to feel so disgusted with politics they believe the nation has become ungovernable. The worse things seem, the stronger Trump’s case for an authoritarian like him to take over.”
Trump is not going to carry the Outer Cape in November, but that’s not to say there are no threats to good government here.
The voter fraud scandal in Truro still lingers in the air. The same people who explicitly encouraged nonresidents to vote here are calling the legal and procedurally proper review of those registrations “voter suppression.”
They’ve stolen the language of the legitimately oppressed, saying that being called before a board of registrars is “intimidation.”
Black people, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos have been beaten in this country for trying to vote. Racism is real. These would-be voters’ claims of “intimidation” are not.
The lawyers at Harrington Heep who were hired to defend these voters before the registrars are now advising the Provincetown Part-Time Resident Taxpayers Association as well. Claims that town governments here are “rigged” echo Trump’s claims that the election of 2020 was stolen from him.
Our goal is to report stories that are, in Reich’s words, “worthy of reporting.” Both setbacks and steps forward matter, and we try to report them both.
Government here can be vexing, but it is not broken. “I’m sticking with democracy,” says Robert Reich, and we are, too.