It may be self-serving for us to speak about the role of the local press in today’s closed-loop media ecosystems, but several responses from readers last week to an editorial about the sharp rise of anti-Semitism and its ties to a tone set by the president got us thinking. A common refrain among those who complained about our making the link to President Trump was a demand for proof of his embrace of hateful statements and acts. If that is what they think, they haven’t been paying attention.
Though the president has denounced anti-Semitism in prepared remarks and supports pro-Israel policies, he embraced the neo-Nazis who chanted “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, declaring that some of them were “very fine people.” He has amplified conspiracy theories and theorists, including those who promote ideas about imaginary global Jewish forces led by George Soros or others.
By lending the credence of the presidency to some of the right wing’s furthest-out voices, he has amplified their reach and the danger they pose to all minorities, Jews included. He has repeated blatantly anti-Semitic ideas, including ones about money and dual loyalty between America and Israel. Speaking at a meeting of the Israel American Council earlier this month, he mused that Jews should not support Democratic presidential contenders because they might lose wealth to the challengers’ tax plans and said that American Jews were insufficiently loyal to Israel. “A lot of you are in the real estate business, because I know you very well. You’re brutal killers, not nice people at all,” he went on. Whether he actually believes what he says or not, there are apparently millions of Americans who do and take him at his word. That right there is the precise danger.
To regular consumers of the mainstream press as well as Twitter, news podcasts, C-Span, and other media, all with professional reporting staff in Washington and throughout the world, that the president has said racist and anti-Semitic things and brought white supremacists into the White House is self-evident. However, we also assume that the readers demanding facts do so earnestly because in the alternative news world they inhabit, these things are glossed over if they are mentioned at all. And many of their grievances are fair, if the blame is misdirected — the United States has left its middle class and poor behind, with just three billionaires holding wealth equal to half of the rest of the population.
To the Trump right, fanning Americans’ political divisions up into a cold civil war is central to their grip on power. Fox News, the administration’s main propaganda arm, is the leading force in a battle to control the narrative.
Which brings us back to the local press. It may be that in communities served by small newspapers or hyperlocal web news outlets, our modest platforms are all that remains of a commonly shared view of the world. Audiences are fractured into many different and differing news silos, parallel universes where one presentation of observations may never be challenged by another view. This newspaper — though this, its editorial page, leans left — welcomes letters to the editor expressing ideas from across the political spectrum.
For small news organizations serving as the last common thread in a country seemingly so intractably divided, the responsibility is great. We may be the only shared media experience left. The way we use this platform is critical, then, and may provide a path, however narrow, to help reunite a fractured country.