Friday, August 31, 2018

A Free Press Keeps Us Free

A Free Press Keeps Us Free

by Ted Miller
(Originally published in Tumbleweird September 2018)

Our government has always had an antagonistic relationship with the press. 

Breaking from a tyrannical monarchy, our founders didn’t trust a government without checks and balances. The Constitution divides power between three branches of government, each with the responsibility and authority to hold the others accountable. But still, some were afraid those checks and balances weren’t enough. They knew that a well-informed citizenry was essential to a government accountable to the people. 

There is a reason the press is specifically protected by the first amendment. It is the press that tells us what our government is doing and shines a light on darkness, corruption, and abuse of power. 

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” And Ronald Reagan said, “Our tradition of a free press as a vital part of our democracy is as important as ever.” I would say that is even more true today.

Not since the founding of this nation has any president so virulently and consistently attacked the press as Donald J. Trump has. “Fake News,” he shouts whenever something unfavorable is reported about him. He repeatedly labels the media the “enemy of the people.” He incites his audiences against reporters at his rallies. In Trump’s divisive world of friends and enemies, anyone critical of him is the enemy. And enemies of Donald Trump are, in his mind, enemies of the country.

But the press is not the enemy of the people. To the contrary, the press is the protector of the people. Journalists are members of our communities. They have friends and families, pay taxes, and live and work among the rest of us. They are our eyes and ears. And when they find something that isn’t right, they report it.

Watergate was exposed through investigative journalism, in spite of Nixon’s efforts to control the media, leading to a criminal investigation and ultimately to Nixon’s resignation. Publication of the Pentagon Papers told the public how they and Congress had been lied to about the Vietnam War. Reporting of sexual abuse and coverup continues to drive reform in the Catholic Church. Every day, local and national news organizations dig in to the stories and issues of the day to report it to the people. Local governments are held accountable through local media.

But the continued demonization of the media by those who try to control the narrative has undermined the trust of the people.  It is unfortunate that so many in our country are no longer willing or able to trust any media source other than the ones that align with their beliefs. To some, it doesn’t matter whether the “news” they are consuming is rooted in fact or is made up fiction to rile the masses and appeal to their base. The result is deepening division and an inability to find objective truth.

The truth is under attack. Statements like “alternate facts,” “truth isn’t truth,” and “your truth is different than my truth” question the very existence of objective truth. 

It is not a stretch to say we live in Orwellian times. In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on July 24thof this year, Donald Trump said, “"Stick with us. Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. ... What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening."

That sounds eerily like George Orwell’s 1984 where he wrote, “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” We are in peril if the only source of “news” people believe becomes that promoted by the occupant in the White House.

There are such things as facts and objective truth.  We as citizens must sort through the noise to find it. And the free press is our constitutionally protected source of that truth.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Freedom of the press is essential to the preservation of a democracy; but there is a difference between freedom and license. Editorialists who tell downright lies in order to advance their own agendas do more to discredit the press than all the censors in the world.”

Yes, there is such a thing as “fake news.” Editorial spin and propaganda have grown rampant with the information explosion enabled by the internet. Social media is a terrible source of news, yet unverified memes and fabricated conspiracy stories spread like wildfire when they align with what we already believe to be true. It is much too easy to hit “share” without fact-checking, and the truth suffers.

Discerning the truth is hard work and we have to protect ourselves from becoming isolated in our own echo chambers.Opinion, gossip, entertainment, and tabloid are not the same as reporting and investigative journalism. Those who fail to understand the difference and cry “fake news” at anything they disagree with are part of the problem.To lump all media into the “fake news” category undermines efforts by the press to hold to journalistic standards and ethics.

As a nation, we must protect the freedom of the press. We need to support responsible journalism so the press can continue to do the job the founders envisioned. Recognize the difference between opinion and objective reporting. Cut through the spin and biases of multiple news sources to find the truth. Don’t spread the stories you see on Facebook and twitter without fact checking. Be skeptical but open minded. And avoid the cynicism that leads to hopelessness and inaction. 

Cherish the right to a free press. It helps to keep us free.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Vote As If Your Life Depends On It

Vote As If Your Life Depends On It

by Ted Miller
(Originally published in Tumbleweird August 2018)

If you neglect to vote because you think your vote won’t count, you are correct. You have to vote for it to count. Yet almost two-thirds of registered voters in the Mid-Columbia didn’t even bother during the last mid-term election.

Last year, the outcome of Virginia’s 94th legislative district was decided by a single vote. Democrat Shelly Simonds was running against Republican David Yancey. Yancey was ten votes ahead after the initial countless than one hundredth of one percent margin. An automatic recount put Simonds ahead by just one voteAfter a challenge by the Republicans, a panel of three judges ruled that ballot with questionable markings was valid and should be counted for Yancey. That one ballot put the race at an even tie with 11,608 votes to each candidate. In accordance with Virginia law, the election was ultimately decided by a random drawing and Yancey was declared the winner (source:

In the Virginia case, not only was the election decided with onecontested vote, but control of the evenly divided state legislature was decided with this single race. Imagine how the democrats in that district who failed to vote felt about the outcome. Never think that your vote doesn’t make a difference.

Statistics tell us that voter turnout is overwhelmingly higher for older, more affluent whites than for any other demographic. For a variety of reasons including cynicism and barriers to voter participation, persons of color, young people, and low-income citizens are disproportionately less likely to vote (source: And yet the younger non-white demographic, particularly those in a marginalized group, are more adversely affected by regressive policies that favor corporations and the wealthy. Issues like equality, gun violence, health care, immigration, wages, and education are only addressed when we who care about those issues make our voices heard.

Following the February 14th shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, student survivors responded with political activism. They started the March For Our Lives movement, inspiring national protest marches and vigorous debate about gun violence. Gun rights advocates vilified them and gun control activists hailed them as heroes. These teenagers organized their efforts and used their unexpected fame to call for change. And unlike the responses to previous shootings, theknew the key to change was the ballot box. They began a relentless call to register young people and are working across the country to electrepresentatives who will take action to address the epidemic of gun violence in our nation. These young leaders know that the path for change begins with local elections. 

We the people have the power to make change, and the way we do that is with the power of our vote. 

We live in a representative democracy. The Constitution gives citizens the right to elect those that best represent them at all levels of government. In some areas of the country, voter suppression, district gerrymandering, and similar efforts to maintain politicalhold on power against the will of the people are very real. But as long as the Constitution standswe the people have the power to ensure our own future. We have to exercise that power to make a difference.

When you vote, make sure you are an informed voter. Remember not to believe everything you see in a meme on social media. Seek out multiple sources of informationResearch the candidates and how they stand on the issues important to you. Vote your values. Don’t ever think your vote isn’t important, or that it “won’t count” because you think your opinion is in the minority. That cynicism is why the demographics of our elected officials often do not reflect the demographics of our communities.

Washington makes voting easy and accessible. Registration is simple and can be done on-line in most cases. Voting is secure with paper ballots filled out at a time convenient to the voter. Ballots can be mailed (postage-free starting with this election) or placed in a local ballot box. There are relatively few barriers to voting in our state. 

If this is the first time you are old enough to vote, make this the first in a lifetime of regular voting. If you are eligible to vote but aren’t registered, register now. If you are registered and haven’t yet voted in the primary, do so today. If you missed the August 7th primaryelection daymake a commitment to register and vote in the general election this November.

I believe in progressive values and I believe there are those who want to reverse the progress we’ve made on women’s rights, LGBT equality, help for the poor, tax fairness, expansion of health care for all, and legal protections for the most vulnerable in our society. I vote for the candidates and the issues that best reflect my values. I encourage you to do the same.

If you want your government to reflect you and your values, vote. Vote as if your life depends on it. 

Because it does.