It’s election night, and we are filing the last story on local election results with one ear anxiously tuned to the returns from across the country. As this day approached, some readers asked if the newspaper would endorse their favored candidates. Political endorsements are a journalistic tradition, but we haven’t made any since we started the paper — which is not to say that we don’t have opinions about these contests. To us, though, it’s more important to report truthfully on candidates’ statements and actions than to tell readers how they should vote.
These are not good times for either truth or tradition, and I’m worried that this election will make things worse.
Across the U.S., once-great newspapers are shrinking and disappearing, and as they wither, readers are giving up on them. What’s taking their place is often disturbingly fact-free.
The other day, Teresa’s parents, who live in Yarmouth Port, received a free sample edition of the Epoch Times, a serious-looking broadsheet of 24 pages whose motto is “Truth & Tradition.” The pitch promised “accurate news and engaging features” that “contribute to the revival of American journalism and help safeguard our freedoms.” Jane and George Parker, having grown disappointed in the fading Cape Cod Times, wondered what this new paper might be.
It didn’t take long for them to smell something rotten. The “news” section of the Epoch Times is mostly stories promoting debunked conspiracy theories about voter fraud and rigged ballot boxes, “grassroots election integrity efforts” by right-wing vigilantes, and the belief that climate change is a hoax. The opinion section vilifies Joe Biden and his Dept. of Justice and attacks Covid vaccine science, immigrants, and green energy as a “big lie.”
The paper, founded in 2000 by followers of Falun Gong, a Chinese religious movement whose members are persecuted there, has become a “pro-Trump media empire” and “a leading purveyor of right-wing misinformation,” the New York Times reported. NBC News found that the Epoch Times spent more money on pro-Trump Facebook ads than any organization other than the Trump campaign itself. The fact-checking website Snopes discovered close ties between the paper and QAnon, the wingnut operation that says Democrats are cannibalistic child sex traffickers.
By 2019, Epoch Times videos and ads had more social media views than any traditional news publisher. And it’s growing fast. Ironically, the paper is now being printed by the cash-strapped newspaper publisher Gannett. “Profiting off operations that help undermine real journalism is abhorrent, no matter how much Gannett needs the money,” editorialized the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month.
It’s beyond appalling that the peddlers of deception have co-opted the language of journalism to attack decency and reason as “big lies.” But when we voted this morning in Wellfleet, we were struck by the seriousness of purpose of our election officials and volunteers, quietly doing the work of democracy. Yes, we are worried about America. But we are grateful to be eating Election Day Cake and tracking returns — knowing we are among people who still believe in the process.