Right now in Russia, purveyors of “fake news” (deemed as such by that bastion of truthfulness and decency The Kremlin) can face a 15-year prison sentence under a new law enacted by truth-fearer Vladimir Putin and his gutless cohorts. This is on top of a 2019 “fake news” law that had somewhat lighter penalties with smaller fines and less jail time but that always-scary mark on your permanent record.
I got that “permanent record” warning a lot when I was in school, though I was never really sure what it meant. I remain scared that someday when I try to retire or get some of that socialist Medicare I’ll be told, “Nope. Ain’t gonna happen! We were just looking at your permanent record and noticed that you wrote ‘Van Halen rules!’ in your Algebra I textbook. Application denied!”
In Russia, that permanent record warning is real, though. It could mean that you have trouble getting a job in the country someday. Then again, with all the sanctions levied against Russia right now, the only jobs that are available are delivering bug-infested wheat to China and killing innocent women, children and babies in Ukraine.
Of course, some Russians still don’t know what’s happening in Ukraine. It’s mostly the older crowd who gets their “news” from limited sources, mostly propaganda. Meanwhile, most of the ones who consume what The Kremlin considers “fake news” are younger and more likely to get arrested and a blemish on their permanent record. And they’re more likely to be OK with that permanent record blemish because they know Putin won’t be around much longer. Before that permanent record matters, Putin will be just another evil despot long gone from the Earth and remembered as another Hitler, Pol Pot or Stalin. He’ll be just another historical waste of human flesh.
While those younger folks — and a good many folks of other ages — are brave to stand up to Putin, they couldn’t do it without the work of journalists. There are many things we will never forget about the war in Ukraine, and I hope one is that journalism is crucial to a healthy society and democracy.
While some in America seek out affirmation instead of information from their preferred propagandists, they also regurgitate cries of “fake news” when they hear things they don’t like and believe journalists are “enemies of the state” when their leaders use the line enough — you know, Putin-style.
In Russia, the propaganda-fueled masses support a “military intervention” in Ukraine because their leader says it’s justified. In America, the propaganda-fueled masses were told an election was rigged and stormed the U.S. Capitol while their leader who promised “I’ll be right there with you” but instead danced with glee from a safe distance and did the we-gonna-have-a-coup dance a few blocks down the street.
Journalists are hated by the masses in America. I’m sure it’s aggravating for folks to say things like “you can’t trust the media” when they trust the media themselves — but only the media they choose and tells them what they want to hear. And, yes, that happens on both sides.
But journalists — whether they are your local reporter covering a county commission meeting or Clarissa Ward reporting from the streets of Kabul or Kiev — should wear that hatred as a badge of honor. You should keep up the good fight for the fight’s sake — and even for the good of the feces-flingers.
In America, we at least have the option of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. And when a despot tries to subvert the law here, the public has the option to examine the issue clearly if they so choose. That’s because they have journalists. I don’t mean the talking heads like Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon. I mean journalists.
I’ve known multitudes of real journalists. I’ve sat in the meetings where coverage was discussed and argued. One of the things all real journalists know is that there is more than one side to every issue. One side may be completely warped and evil, but there is always another side. If an issue is simple and unexamined before its presentation — such as “totally rigged election” — you’re probably consuming propaganda. And the propaganda outlets thank you for your lack of critical information consumption.
I’ve been a journalist, though mostly in sports. I never had to duck bullets or bombs. However, I was threatened on many occasions as a sports journalist. I once had a man smash his newspaper box to bits in the middle of our newsroom because I’d reported that the then-all-white private school his child attended had won a couple of “Martin Luther King Jr. Day basketball games.” They were the only Monday games they played all year, so they were doing one of two things: (1) Celebrating MLK Day or (2) showing to the world that they were in school as usual and not celebrating that holiday for a black man. I offered no opinion whatsoever and merely stated a fact. Sometimes those facts touch nerves.
As a columnist and writer now, I don’t consider myself a journalist. I offer plenty of opinions, perspectives and occasional baloney. It’s only when I poke at the truth that the feces-flingers come out to play. The truth scares them. That’s when I get the occasional banal and negative comments. However, years ago, angry readers used to send me threatening letters and hate mail that I kept in a folder. Sometimes I’d read them for fun and affirmation of my own that I had hit someone with a grain of truth — or a rock, or a boulder — that had pained them.
On the most rare occasions, I changed a mind. On more common occasions, readers consumed information presented by the journalists around me and came to informed conclusions — not always absolute truth, which is an almost unreachable ideal — but an informed, reasonable perspective on issues of the day.
However, if you prefer Putin’s path, by all means scream “Fake news!” and fling your feces. When you throw rocks at those attempting to bring the truth to the best of their ability with the best of intentions that you may never understand, it helps the rest of us see the issues even more clearly.
So, I guess I should thank the journalists and the feces-flingers. You both help the rest of us see the light.