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Local View: We are in danger of losing one of our greatest freedoms, a free press

From the column: "Destroying the credibility of the press is one of the initial steps when certain segments of political leadership start working to shift a democracy toward a totalitarian form of government."

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Pat Bagley / Cagle Cartoons
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The first 10 amendments to our Constitution are referred to as the Bill of Rights and spell out the rights that citizens of this country have. The First Amendment guarantees our rights to the freedoms of religion, speech, the press, peaceable assembly, and to petition the government for any redress of grievances. Those are rights that people in totalitarian forms of government do not enjoy.

On Feb. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an illegal attack on Ukraine, a sovereign country, and Putin told the Russian people his goal was to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine. His aim was to protect people subjected to what he called eight years of bullying and genocide by Ukraine, according to BBC. There is no evidence to back his assertions.

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Guy Parsons / Cagle Cartoons

The Russian citizens see and hear what is on state-controlled news media. Unfortunately, most of the people in Russia buy into what they are told by their state-controlled media. Russia has essentially shut down most other news agencies. The Russian government also enacted a law that criminalizes independent war reporting and protesting the war, with penalties of up to 15 years in prison, according to Human Rights Watch. They just sentenced Alexei Gorinov to seven years in prison for speaking out against the war, according to the Associated Press. These are rights and freedoms U.S. citizens have because they are protected by our Constitution.

To some degree, the news media have always been under attack, but, unfortunately, in recent years, these attacks have been ramped up significantly. Leading politicians have called the media “the enemy of the people,” “fake news,” “dishonest,” and far worse. These disparaging remarks have been made over and over in speech after speech or on social-media sites, to the point that many have started believing this incredible disinformation campaign.

With freedoms come incredible responsibilities. The fallacy of what is taking place is people won’t assume that responsibility to research and verify what they see or hear. The danger in this is that they don’t know if what they see or hear is factual or is disinformation or conspiracy theories. They are also all too eager to pass what they see or hear on to others as if it were gospel. Unfortunately, most who get that information don’t take the time to verify if it’s true or not, either.

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Most of the news in this country comes from our local newspapers and television stations. These news outlets, in my opinion, do an excellent job reporting what is going on in their communities, surrounding areas, and state. They also do a good job at reporting some news from other parts of the U.S and the world. I find their news to be factual and accurate.

When I’m unclear about something I read or hear, I research it to satisfy myself that it’s factual.

Local papers and television news also provide social and societal cohesion, which helps bind communities together. This is more important today because we are so divided as a society, and we need to come together as a community — even when we have differences.

I occasionally write columns like this one for publication in the News Tribune. I have been impressed with the amount of due diligence the editors do to make sure what I have written is factual. They don’t want disinformation or conspiracy theories going out to their customers. I have also found the same degree of scrutiny with other newspapers I have written for.

We are seeing a dramatic decline in the trust and confidence of our news media in this country, which, in my opinion, is driven by the total fabrication about mainstream media being “the enemy of the people,” “dishonest,” etc. Unfortunately, most of this is driven by many of our elected officials at every level of politics, as well as social-media sites with their own agendas as they relate to the tearing down of our institutions.

We have the potential of losing one of our greatest freedoms, a free press. Destroying the credibility of the press is one of the initial steps when certain segments of political leadership start working to shift a democracy toward a totalitarian form of government. When this happens, just like in Russia, those in charge of the government will control what you see and hear, and you will start to suffer the erosion of other freedoms that we are now fortunate to enjoy in the U.S.

If you don’t think this could happen in America, do your homework. It has happened in several countries. It can happen faster than you think.

J. Doug Pruitt of Knife River is a writer and contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.

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J. Doug Pruitt

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