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By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News

 

The power of the press...

Posted 9/27/16 (Tue)

In today’s world we see and hear a lot of negativity aimed at the media.

In recent years, the quality of the news has dropped, especially on television. And, it appears that news has taken a back seat to revenue, regardless of whether it’s TV, radio, newspaper or Internet.

It’s unfortunate, because for the most part, TV has manufactured this problem with favoritism toward political parties and networks with agendas rather than remaining neutral and objective like we were all taught in college.

Newspapers have always had a place for the types of opinions that we often see on the network news programs each night. Those opinions don’t belong in the main stream as network TV has apparently twisted it. But there they are, viewed by millions.

The media, the press, used interchangably, has a lot of power in this regard. Just look at how it has influenced public opinion with all these mass shootings.

It isn’t the kind of power we want to see in media, but there it is.

Instead of that, I’d like to focus on the power of the press in a different way and the best example I can come up with is how the Grand Forks Herald was able to continue thriving, on a daily basis, following the April 1997 flood.

There are numerous radio stations in Grand Forks and at least the presence of two TV stations, yet the Herald was the glue that kept Grand Forks together during its most difficult time in history.

It was simple. It was the information in the Herald every day that was so critical to people’s lives. It mattered in a big way.

It kept people informed and even entertained. Everyone was in it together, including the Herald, so people embraced it for that reason as well.

I’m not sure how many people know this or remember it, but the presses were rolling up until the time the flood water broke through the building and workers had to evacuate. That’s commitment, that’s the power of the press.

Another example of this power is in the Washington Post when two of its reporters were able to gain enough information to bring down President Nixon through the Watergate scandal.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore, rather we’re seeing the opposite, media going to great lengths to protect a presidential candidate who has more baggage than Amtrak.

Those of us in the press are always looking for that big story. We work day to day, usually slipping into routines and we’re spitting out material that is well read but doesn’t have the power to stop a U.S. president in his tracks.

In my career, I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to be part of two felony trials, and in both cases, on opposite ends of North Dakota, the result was the same, the public was informed and the rumors were put to rest.

Yes, courts are public, but not everyone chooses to go, nor does everyone have access. Instead, they form their own conclusions and that’s when the rumors begin to fly.

It’s a reporter’s job to present that information, as it was divulged in the courtroom. It doesn’t mean one can “read between the lines,” or influence anyone, especially the jury. The focus is to present the information and let the readers decide.

That’s the power of the press. Here’s a different example.

Several years ago I was a young Soldier who was assigned to study the Soviet Army and how its chemical warfare units operated. After all, to defeat the enemy, you have to know the enemy, right?

During that time, I studied its tactics, the decisions, the power officers had over the enlisted; but one item was difficult to get through military channels, intelligence of what was happening on the ground after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

I had access to only one report, “Chemical Warfare in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan,” a report written by then Secretary of State Alexander Haig.

It described some of the tactics, however, it was sketchy because the Soviet Union went to great lengths to keep information away from the United States.

During that same time, I subscribed to Maclean’s, which is known as Canada’s weekly newsmagazine. Maclean’s had reporters assigned to Afghanistan.

Little did the Russians know that Americans have access to this magazine.

So there I was, a Soldier on the American prairie, essentially reading about every move the Russians were making in Afghanistan. That’s the power of the free press.