Cartoons and “Fake News”

It started with a mysterious message on the website for The Power County Press and The Aberdeen Times, saying that the two newspapers have drifted into major partisanship. We don’t know which side of the political spectrum the author thought we were drifting; they didn’t say.

And then came an email complaining that, on a day which President Trump had sent a particularly scathing tweet (which is just about every day, isn’t it?), we ran a cartoon criticizing Hillary Clinton instead. In this subscriber’s mind, we were appealing to the Republican base in Power County and refusing any criticism of President Trump, and so they cancelled their subscription (for the record, the cartoon was chosen before the events of that particular day).

And then a few weeks after that, someone came in to renew their subscription, but mentioned they considered cancelling it, for the exact opposite reason as the person before: they felt we ran too many cartoons criticizing Donald Trump.

The only portion of the our paper that drifts into national politics is the editorial cartoons, and this is too much for some of our readers to handle, I guess. It seems that some people cannot read anything they disagree with. To read another point of view is to be offended in today’s world.

For those of us who have worked in the industry for a while, this is becoming just a little bit of a shock. Right up until about the time I graduated from journalism school, we were taught to be as impartial as possible and to represent both sides of every issue. Now, obviously, there have been debates the entire time if this really can be done. But the rule was clear: don’t overtly espouse a political ideology.

It’s obvious now that that baby has gone out with the bathwater. For years, conservative talk show hosts and commentators said the mainstream, national media was liberally biased. This was propped up by studies that showed most newspaper reporters and editors voted Democrat.

But some of the major news networks, with the criticism, worked harder to reach out to conservatives and to present conservative opinions along with liberal opinions. But that did not make conservative commentators happy. No, the presence of any liberal coverage was a sign of liberal bias. They felt the obvious answer to the world’s problems were conservative ones and most clear-headed people could see that, so the inclusion of any liberal attitudes were only to stir up people and promote a liberal agenda. So the only true unbiased media in their minds was one that was biased in their favor.

It started with talk radio, but then moved to the internet and television. There was a whole side industry for only conservative news sources. For a while, like I said, some major news sources tried to reach out to conservatives more often. But then they gave up, and now we have media that is so liberal it makes the “liberal” media of yesteryear look as bland as chalk.

This has been a problem. President Obama did some things that made my skin crawl, things that in the past would have been covered by all media, but because of the divide we now have they were only considered conservative issues and covered only by conservative outlets. This meant that only those reading conservative news knew what was going on, and often in those publications it was blown out of proportion.

That’s happening right now, too. Because of the unusualness of President Trump, some of his actions are also blown out of proportion by what used to be mainstream media but are now liberal sounding horns. There’s plenty to talk about without having to cover him every minute of the day and criticize his every syllable.

And so it comes down to us, a small weekly publication that doesn’t delve into national politics except for a weekly political cartoon or two. Everyone seems ready to see where we fall in the political dividing line, and it is usually on the opposite of where they see themselves. I just hope there are enough people not offended by a cartoon to keep reading, because the most important information is often not all that interesting and does not fall into the spectrum of the national soap opera we have right now. Cartoons are just a diversion, as is much of the “news” of today.

Thanks for reading!

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