A trickle-down effect works its wrongs, and ‘fake news’ insults deepen the hurt

Rick Norton
Posted 7/9/17

“Faster and faster Americans are turning away from the lies put out by America’s ‘Fake News’ publishers, like CNN, Fox, CBS, CNBC, Yahoo News, The AP, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, Washington Post and New …

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A trickle-down effect works its wrongs, and ‘fake news’ insults deepen the hurt


“Faster and faster Americans are turning away from the lies put out by America’s ‘Fake News’ publishers, like CNN, Fox, CBS, CNBC, Yahoo News, The AP, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, Washington Post and New York Times. Everyone of these ‘news’ outlets is biased!”

— Anonymous letter

from an angry

Banner reader

(June 7, 2017)


Three times in the past month I’ve had the phrase “fake news” — an increasingly irritating phrase used frequently by our president — thrown in my face as the ongoing war of words between the White House and national mainstream media continues its trickle-down descent to the community level.

The first came by anonymous letter from a Cleveland Daily Banner subscriber who advises if not for the grocery ads in the Wednesday edition he’d cancel his subscription altogether (of course, his handwritten letter seemed to show he had a good day-to-day knowledge of our news content, meaning he scans more than just the colorful grocery fliers).

The second came 24 hours later from the same subscriber, only this time he identified himself via address label on the envelope, and in this second stanza he assaulted our newspaper for printing news stories from The Associated Press, a media outlet that he describes as having “... long ago abandoned any semblance of journalistic ethics.”

The third came several days ago from a prominent local politician — one who has held elected office for many years, and who has a strong track record of doing good things for this community — who took to task a news story we published on the front page. In an email, he charged the story’s tone “... closely mirrors fake news.”

Before moving on, let’s be perfectly clear on two points.

One, both of you — and anyone else in the Cleveland and Bradley County community — have a right to your opinion, and this newspaper will always respect that right ... and we will defend that right, whether you love us, hate us or fall somewhere in between; and whether you are a year-round subscriber, a Sunday subscriber or someone who buys on impulse from the racks or convenience stores.

But two, if you want to get on this editor’s bad side — and if you want to remain on this editor’s bad side — then keep throwing that “fake news” phrase around like a hot potato.

In the case of this community newspaper, and probably most community newspapers for that matter, it has no place nor does it have any bearing on what we try to do. Surely, we make mistakes and we always — always — try to make good on those mistakes. But those mistakes are never intentional.

We’ve done some good reporting. We’ve done some shallow reporting. We’ve done some bad reporting. But never — at least, in my seven years here — have we tried to maim a reputation nor have we strategized a scheme to falsify facts or distort truth.

I can’t speak for other media outlets nor will I make an attempt. What they do is what they do. What we do is what we do.

As for the big guys, the national outfits like CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, the Washington Post and the New York Times, among others, their work has nothing to do with the Cleveland Daily Banner.

A newspaper in our market size hardly has the budget for a Washington, D.C., correspondent. We can’t even afford a state bureau in Nashville. That’s why we’re called a community newspaper.

Community news is what we know. Community news is what we do. Community news is our bread. It is our butter. It is our reason for being.

Our only real connection to the big guys is The Associated Press, a news service to which we subscribe ... as do most daily newspapers. We don’t have the manpower — nor the financial resources — to fill our pages with local news exclusively. If we could, we would. But we can’t, so we don’t. That’s where AP news — state, national and international — pitches in.

The day’s top community news fills our front page and several pages on the inside. AP stories, as well as local news releases and other submissions, take up the rest of the space.

We have no control over what news events AP covers. Nor do we have influence on how they cover it. The same is true with the major TV networks, CNN, MSNBC and any of the newspapers in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or even Bangor, Maine.

What they do, and how they do it, is their decision. In Cleveland, Tennessee, what we do, and how we do it, is ours.

They do their thing. We do our thing.

So, when President Trump tweets statements like “... The fake news media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people!” ... well, his broad-brush condemnation is not only insulting, it is hurtful.

It doesn’t mean I don’t like President Trump.

It doesn’t mean I don’t respect President Trump.

It doesn’t mean I don’t want the best for President Trump.

Truth is, as I’ve said previously on this Opinion page — whether in editorials or a personal column — I want the president to succeed. It is my belief if the president succeeds, then America succeeds. And if America succeeds, then Americans succeed.

Yet, there are some — as evidenced by the earlier “fake news” references — who choose to take advantage of the trickle-down effect. Their rationale is, “If my president says it, then I can say it.”

Fine. But here’s the conundrum. He’s my president, too ... even if he doesn’t like me. And some of his words — like “fake news” and “enemies of the American people” — are not only damaging to those of us trying to do the right thing, they are encouraging others to do, and to say, the same ... and at the community level, where it is least deserved.

In the subscriber’s second handwritten letter to our newspaper — the one in which the Cleveland resident identified himself — the writer pointed out, “America is tired of low expectations. If CNN is failing, and just passed AP in its freefall, what does that say about the Cleveland Daily Banner? If the Banner gets its news from the AP, the Banner isn’t much better than ‘Fake News’ CNN.”

Granted, print outlets like AP, The New York Times and Washington Post — and many of the electronic guys, especially CNN and MSNBC — aren’t giving the president much of a breather. Even I can see that, and I’m rarely the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Yet, I firmly believe our commander in chief is sometimes his own worst enemy.

So Mr. President, here’s a piece of advice from a lowly community newspaper editor whom you’ll never know from Adam: You don’t have to respond. You don’t have to tweet. You don’t have to take reporters’ questions during press conferences as a personal affront. Just do your job. Work with Congress. Make your decisions. Enact policy. Lead America. Give Americans a reason to believe.

How the media reacts is how the media reacts. Answer their questions in good faith. Show some patience with their aggression. And do the job that you feel you were elected to do.

The American people should expect no more. Nor should the media.

And by all means, shelve that phrase ... unless you intend to remind your faithful that not everyone in the media is their enemy, and that not all media wallows in “fake news” — especially those at the community level.

Here’s why it’s important: The local politician I mentioned earlier, the one who alleged one of our news stories mirrored fake news? He’s a good guy. Over many years, he’s done a lot of great things for the people of Cleveland and Bradley County. This newspaper has worked with him on many occasions in support of shared causes.

Yet, even this guy chose to sling your “fake news” insult in our direction. If ever there was a trickle down that should not have been trickled, it was this one.

His reasoning?: “If my president says it, then I can say it.”

And, like I said, “He’s my president, too.”

Folks, anger’s net result too often is this: More anger.

So while we stew a little on that thought, here’s another one I found on the internet from an unknown author: “Why be fake? In the end, the truth comes out and when that happens, you’re standing alone.”

It’s sage advice for everybody ... media, politicians, constituents and presidents.

As much as some want to deny it, the truth is this: We need each other ... not just to survive this day, but also to bring a glimmer of hope into this life.


(About the writer: Rick Norton is an associate editor at the Cleveland Daily Banner. Email him at


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