peter urban / ctnewsjunkie file
BARTH KECK

It began with two news stories, one in the CT Mirror and the other in the Waterbury Republican-American.

Both stories focused on Jahana Hayes’ “heightened sense of awareness” regarding emails, phone calls, and social-media messages she has received following Donald Trump’s “hostile tweets to lawmakers of color.”

Previously, I have expressed support for Hayes, Connecticut’s U.S. representative from the 5th Congressional District. But her reaction to these news stories has me shaking my head.

“I am appalled at the continuous attempts by journalists to drive this narrative that I am using race as a dividing card,” Hayes said in an Aug. 25 press release. “This is clickbait journalism at its very worst — in order to drive clicks and boost advertising, these outlets are making reckless assumptions without thought for the consequences. To be clear: while my office, like all congressional offices, has received the occasional harassing email or phone call, I have not been directly threatened.”

Added Hayes, “As the interview recordings show, in conversations with both reporters, the word ‘racist’ is never once used by me. This entire conversation on security was only a small part of a larger conversation of what the House of Representatives has done for the people over the past 200-plus days in office.”

Curious, I listened to Hayes’ interview with the CT Mirror’s Ana Radelat. I found this particular exchange noteworthy:

Hayes: There are some people who are just spewing out hateful things and…

Radelat: Are they racist?

Hayes: Yes. Very much so. Very much so. Very much so. That continues to be a recurring theme, and I remind people, you know, this is who I am. You know, I’m not … I’m going to be black, I’m going to be a woman. This is who I am.

So while Hayes is correct that she never used the word “racist” herself, she certainly confirmed that she has received “hateful” messages that are indeed racist. So what’s going on here? Why would Hayes’ office send out a press release urging journalists “to be fair and accurate, rather than focusing on clickbait” when a reporter clearly did not misconstrue her words?

Hayes was most likely frustrated with the news stories because they focused on a portion of the interviews she would rather downplay. Unfortunately, that’s not how a free press works. If the reporting is filled with contextual facts supported by verbatim quotes, the end product is legitimate. In other words, as much as they’d like to, interview subjects don’t get final approval of news stories.

Regrettably, Hayes has joined the growing chorus of journalism’s kneejerk detractors, a group led by Donald Trump with his incessant labeling of reporters as the “enemy of the people.” Trump’s team, in fact, has just driven this condemnation to new depths.

The New York Times reported last week that Trump affiliates have “compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social-media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.”

“The operation has compiled social-media posts from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and stored images of the posts that can be publicized even if the user deletes them, said the people familiar with the effort,” according to the Times. This “dirt” includes information that “extend[s] to members of journalists’ families who are active in politics, as well as liberal activists and other political opponents of the president.”

It’s a tactic called “doxxing,” strategy used to embarrass or discredit perceived opponents. Now, supporters of the highest office in the land are employing this insidious weapon — and they promise to increase its use “as the 2020 election heats up.”

The distrust — some might say outright “loathing” — of the press has also spread to student journalists.

“Butler University, Muscatine Community College, Wichita State University, and Mount St. Mary’s University have punished or threatened to punish student newspapers for publishing potentially unflattering material,” reports The Atlantic. “Even schools with lauded undergraduate journalism programs such as the University of Missouri, the University of Kansas, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were among those cited by the American Association of University Professors for encroachments on student journalism.”

Will E. Young, editor-in-chief of Liberty University’s student-run newspaper, outlined his own experience in a recent essay:

“Any administrator or professor who appeared in an article had editing authority over any part of the article; they added and deleted whatever they wanted. [University President Jerry] Falwell called our newsroom on multiple occasions to direct our coverage personally, as he had a year earlier when, weeks before the 2016 election, he read a draft of my column defending mainstream news outlets and ordered me to say whom I planned to vote for.”

Journalism was already a challenging and undervalued endeavor before it became scorned and downright dangerous in the era of Trump. I had hoped clear-thinking politicians like Jahana Hayes would recognize this troubling development and remain above the cynical rancor. Sadly, I was mistaken.

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

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Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and 15th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition.