An ordinary news story, and an extraordinary response on social media ... and that’s “extraordinary” in a bad way.
Recently the Daily News published a news story about a petition being supported through an international organization called Change.org that seeks to have U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz expelled from Congress for what it calls obstruction of justice and disdain for the rule of law, most notably after he and other Republicans tried to enter a House Intelligence Committee meeting related to the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump.
Change.org is a for-profit business that makes its living hosting petitions that support a variety of progressive causes, from environmental protection to victims’ rights.
The Daily News story, written by a Staff Writer Jim Thompson, a polite Georgia boy whose manner of speaking calls to mind steamy afternoons cooling oneself on a neighbor’s front porch with a sweating glass of iced tea, was a restrained, accurate and objective depiction of events surrounding the petition and Rep. Gaetz’s response.
A run-of-the-mill news story, or so I thought.
What was extraordinary about it — to me, anyway — was the response it garnered on Facebook.
Picture mobs of angry people, their faces illuminated by torchlight, demanding the monster be thrown to the flames. The savagery was breathtaking.
In this case the monster was not Change.or, or the “DemocRATS” as one commenter put it. It was the Daily News — for printing such “liberal garbage.”
The commenters attached significance that the newspaper had done a story at all, as if the Daily News were surreptitiously promoting a viewpoint that was incompatible with their own and therefore was printing “liberal garbage.”
That’s scary because it means three things: 1. People equate news with commentary. 2. People no longer want to hear the truth; they want to be told what affirms their beliefs. 3. People no longer understand the role of a newspaper in the community.
That would support a recent survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which rated Americans’ knowledge of basic civics “dismally” low.
For the record, a newspaper’s job is to report what is happening, whether the news is good or bad. It is not to tell you what you want to hear. The newspaper is not a PR firm.
People who slay the messenger because they don’t like the message will soon be living in ignorance.
That’s when the real monsters step into the light.
Del Stone Jr. is the online editor for the Daily News. You can contact him at (850) 315-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org