by Guy Page
Seven Days Publisher Paula Routly recently bemoaned in a Nov. 11 column, “We’ve heard at regional newspaper conferences that many media outlets across New England struggle to attract conservative voices to their opinion pages.”
Routly’s right. Vermont conservatives – and Trump supporters in particular – are media shy. At numerous Trump rallies this reporter has asked flag-waving, sign-carrying, “USA” chanting Vermonters to tell me why they support the president. Those willing to answer usually refuse to give their names. Social and family repercussions are feared. Worse, they tell me they’re worried about losing their jobs.
And frankly, they have reason to be worried. Just ask Tiffany Riley, the Windsor School principal fired for not cheerleading about Black Lives Matters on her personal Facebook page. Putney Town Administrator Karen Astley averted termination after she publicly apologized for posting “All Lives Matter” on her Facebook page.
But editors might say, ‘we’re not an elected board. We aren’t responsible for how readers might react. We welcome open, free speech.’ It’s a claim some pro-Trump and/or anti-BLM readers doubt. Some recent events make them think that, on the contrary, an anti-conservative bias exists in some Vermont media:
Online comments cut – Many media outlets – including Seven Days – have eliminated their online ‘comments’ section, giving the impression (true or not) that they don’t care what readers think. VT Digger in particular acknowledged that BLM backlash influenced its decision to eliminate the comments section. In contrast, True North Reports, Vermont Daily, and several other Vermont media, including news aggregator VTWatercooler, all welcome readers.
Radio callers challenged – A few days after the election, a prominent radio call-in host was recently fired for injecting his anti-Trump perspective into the caller-guest conversations. On the one hand, his firing shows that anti-Trumpism isn’t always tolerated. On the other hand, listeners might have thought twice before calling a show where their opinions are likely to be quickly challenged by the host.
Social media blackouts ignored – In the runup to the election, Facebook blacked out posts and even cancelled the accounts of some Vermont conservative activists and candidates. Art Peterson, House candidate for Rutland-2 and leader of an anti-BLM flag petition, found his Facebook account erased in early October. No explanation – it was just gone. It was only restored after the election (which he won). Coverage of this free-speech challenge was minimal. If Vermont Progressive candidates suddenly found themselves kicked off social media for supporting Biden or BLM, one suspects the Vermont media would have taken notice.
The rush to cry ‘racist’ – Probably nothing about the Vermont media bothers conservatives more than watching news coverage of an event they attended being falsely portrayed as racist in nature. They know they’re not racist. They know the event (say, the Support the Police rally in July) wasn’t racist. Yet the local news, per expectation, found one unknown person making one derogatory comment. Some in attendance conclude the media found and reported the story it came looking for: ‘look at the racist yahoos.’
Selective story assignments – When a Vermont House candidate who is the African-American granddaughter-in-law of redbaiting Sen. Joe McCarthy’s greatest foe, Vermont Sen. Ralph Flanders, likens BLM intolerance to the Red Scare of the 1950’s, you’d think someone in the Vermont press might find the historic parallels interesting. Apart from Vermont Daily (“Another Flanders stands tall,” July 23), you’d be wrong. The power of the press to inform the public is just as much about what it doesn’t cover, as what it does.
Columnists seeking retribution – In the Nov. 12 Addison Independent, “Clippings” columnist Christopher Ross rejects the idea of holding out a post-election olive branch to Trump supporters, likening them to abusers. Channeling AOC’s comments, he quoted Vermont-born journalist Garrett Graff: “America should watch closely this week and demand a heavy price for those who callously, and cowardly, cast doubt on the integrity of our election system.”
Statements like that make Trump supporters who just want a fair election wonder if they’ll end up in a re-education camp. But ultimately, the reader must decide: will I cave to fear or not? We must decide if “In God We Trust” really means something – like stepping out in faith to protect the First Amendment.
Her editorial page is open to conservatives, Paula Routly says: “All reactions are welcome. If they [letters to the editor] are signed, cogent and 250 words or less, we’ll publish them in the paper and on our website.” Send your letters to Seven Days here.
Many Vermonters want Vermont to change but won’t speak outside of their social media bubble. For them the choice is clear: continue to blame the media, or engage it.