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Local, national reporting is critical to the safety and success of New Hampshire

By Adolphe Bernotas - Guest Columnist | Jun 20, 2020

The COVID-19 contagion has hit New Hampshire hard, as it has the rest of the country, hurting small businesses, local economy and our local media. At such an unprecedented moment – when more than 121,000 Americans have died – our local and national media are more important than ever before. The more we know about the virus, the better we can protect ourselves and our neighbors. And the only way to understand what we are up against is to see, hear and read about the toll this is taking on our families and communities. This is especially important now that we are reopening the economy, and local media will continue to inform us how to keep safe and healthy. We need good reporting by newspapers and broadcasters to get through this crisis.

Yet as COVID-19 has swept through our country, President Trump largely has ignored Americans and Granite Staters in need, focusing instead on attacking the media. When asked by MSNBC’s Peter Alexander about how he would respond to Americans who are scared, Trump ignored the question and called Alexander a “terrible reporter.” He has bashed reporters for inquiring about potential ventilator shortages; he singled out CBS News’ Weijia Jiang – an Asian American – after Jiang questioned his inaccurate assessment of testing in the U.S., demanding she “ask China” instead.

This gratuitous assault on the media is not new. Throughout his presidency, Trump has attacked reporters, claiming they spread “fake news” whenever he disagrees with facts. Trump repeatedly has bullied members of the media for asking simple questions, calling them “nasty” and “third-rate,” even threatening a reporter with prison. Instead of directing his administration to work on behalf of the American people, Trump continues to focus only on himself and his followers. Then he attacks the media for reporting the news accurately.

This behavior no longer is isolated to the White House. Many of Trump’s disciples in New Hampshire seem to have adopted his style, with both Republicans running for the U.S. Senate against Jeanne Shaheen lashing out against national and local media. Corky Messner accused reporters of being biased and “making stuff up.” Messner, determined to ingratiate himself to Trump, repeatedly has called coverage of Trump “fake news.” Messner’s opponent Don Bolduc went further, and called for the national media to be “shut down.”

What do Trump, Messner, and Bolduc think the world would look like without journalism? It was the national media that informed the public about COVID-19 when the Trump Administration was silent. It was the media that corrected Trump’s deadly suggestion to inject toxic disinfectants to kill the virus. It is the local media, covering stories of struggling families and small businesses that has pushed Congress to pass robust legislation responding to the virus. It is the media that will continue providing life-saving information as we work to reopen our economy and state, while facing an uncertain future.

Clearly, Messner and Bolduc would rather ape Trump than recognize the essential role New Hampshire newspapers provide. But this rhetoric is dangerous and out of touch with our state’s values.

As Granite Staters, we know the value of journalism. Despite attacks on the media from Trump and the Republicans running for Senate, local and national reporting is critical to the safety and success of New Hampshire. Our communities rely on local newspapers to stay connected, building community through town events and high school sports, and highlighting urgent local needs that otherwise might be ignored.

But, like so many businesses, our local media – cornerstone of the peoples’ right to know – are hurting, too. During the COVID-19 crisis, New Hampshire newspapers have been forced to cut staff; many moving online, permanently downsizing staff and content. And as our local media continue to face difficult decisions, they need our support, not attacks or threats to shut them down, and I am proud to stand with them.

Adolphe Bernotas retired as Associated Press journalist after 39 years in New Hampshire. He is current President of the Communications Workers of America Retired Members’ Council, Media Sector. He lives in Concord.

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