The ballots have been cast. Most of them have been counted. With a few exceptions, the 2018 campaign is over.
Can we please get back to normal now?
Sadly, the answer is probably not.
If anything, the midterm elections further divided America. Even worse for journalists, they served as a catalyst for some of our elected leaders and candidates to amp up their anti-journalism rhetoric.
“Enemy of the American people.”
“A lot of the reporters are creating violence by not writing the truth.”
“If the media would write correctly, and write accurately, and write fairly, you’d have a lot less violence in the country.”
Those words were all uttered by the president of the United States, the last two quotes on the White House lawn in the final days of the campaign.
Just today, at his post-midterms news conference, the president rudely ordered journalists to "sit down," called them "hostile," and said of one, you're "a rude, terrible person."
Compare those words with what 2012 presidential nominee and now Senator-elect Mitt Romney (R-Utah) wrote on his campaign website less than a week before the election:
America is indebted as a democratic nation to the free press for truths it has uncovered, for truth it has disseminated, and for falsehoods it has repudiated. The press uncovered the government’s lies about the war in Vietnam; it exposed Watergate; it opened our eyes to the sexual abuse of children by priests; and, most recently, it shed a light on the sexual assault by numerous men in power. The free press dispelled the false conspiracies about the 9/11 attacks, President Obama’s birth, and Joe McCarthy’s lurking communists. The work of a free press is essential.
Color me nostalgic, but I long for the days when our nation’s political and ideological discourse – particularly as it relates to responsible journalism’s role in our society – more consistently resembled the latter rather than the former.
Sadly, I, nor you, can afford such wistfulness. The reality of today is that so far this year, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats to press freedom in our country, more than 40 journalists have been physically assaulted so far this year. Five have been murdered.
I mention that not to draw a cause-and-effect conclusion, but rather to point out that given the intense anti-responsible journalism vitriol of today, some who either don’t like or don’t understand journalism have felt emboldened to act out in harsh and, sometimes, violent ways.
We at RTDNA have your backs. We consistently urge those who lead companies that employ journalists to harden the physical security of their newsrooms, to provide reporters and photojournalists with self-defense training and, in extreme situations, armed security guards. We plead with them not to send one-person multi-media journalist crews into dangerous areas without someone to look out for their safety.
From January through the end of October I preached the gospel of journalist safety in nearly two dozen speeches across America, in more than four dozen media interviews, more than five dozen columns on RTDNA’s website and social channels, and in more than ten dozen trade and mainstream publications that have picked up our statements or for which I have written op-ed pieces.
But more must be done. As uncomfortable as it may be for some journalists, we must persuade our local, state and federal legislators to enact laws that state unequivocally that our First Amendment-guaranteed duty to serve the public by seeking and reporting the truth is sacrosanct. RTDNA is doing so and we need your help.
We also ask you to help your viewers, listeners and readers better understand why outstanding responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives, that the stories you report every day – especially those that expose corruption or other problems – often serve as catalysts for positive change.
Also, keep doubling down on what you do every day of your professional lives. I have often said, “watch your backs but don’t back down.” That admonishment remains relevant. But I now also have a new message:
Fear will not silence facts.