Helping Vermont media understand their bias

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. 

Sign from Nov. 7 pro-Trump rally at State House

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.

Categories: Media, Opinion

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7 replies »

  1. The media reporting is proven to be biased in the way they use modifying terms. “False” allegations is only one example. Listen to how the nightly news is presented with reporting on the president.

    • Wow, “stepping out in faith to protect the First Amendment?” Earlier on, there’s a tip of the hat, an acknowledgment of good work, when you say of “a prominent radio host,” that his “firing shows that anti-Trumpian isn’t always tolerated.” Pro-Trumpian appears to be fine under your version of the First Amendment. When a prominent radio host demands the truth in the face of an onslaught of thousands of lies by this president and more by a few of his supporters who call radio programs, he is to be fired, and that’s just fine. The First Amendment is to be defended as an article of faith when expressions made under it agree with your views. When they “challenge” your views, that cannot be tolerated. I have never seen bias this bad anywhere in the mainstream media.

      • You go first: What “prominent radio host” who was recently fired were you talking about?

      • OK, let me try to explain. First, it’s pretty clear that the “prominent radio host” who was fired is me. So let’s just be open and honest about that. Second, let’s unpack some other aspects of your presentation here. First, you talk about your heroic but fearful Trump supporters who don’t want to give you their names. “Social and family repercussions are feared,” you write. “Worse, they tell me they’re worried about losing their jobs.”

        Do you know anyone who actually HAS lost a job for going to a rally and expressing support for President Trump? Or is this just paranoia and self-proclaimed victimization? Oh, the poor right-wingers! Look at them fearing losing their jobs! Look at how they’re oppressed by an evil media empire that has the temerity to report facts! (Including the fact, reported by The Washington Post in July, that the president had made more than 20,000 false or misleading claims).

        Conversely, do you know anyone who actually HAS lost his or her job in a manner that prompts you to write that “his firing shows that anti-Trumpism isn’t always tolerated”? When someone FEARS losing her job for expressing pro-Trump views, that’s a horror. But when someone else ACTUALLY DOES lose his job, not for expressing opinions, but for reciting facts, critical of the president, that appears to be OK by your lights.

        It was most often after a recitation of facts — not opinions — that I would be chastised during the course of my recent stint as a radio host. For example, one severe scolding and, later, my firing, came after I cited the criminal record. As of November of 2019 and the seven charges of which Roger Stone was found guilty, people affiliated with Trump’s 2016 campaign or his administration or both had amassed no fewer than 27 criminal convictions. Those are not opinions dreamed up by a radio host or spun by Adam Schiff, but findings of fact by an independent judiciary It’s also a fact that no other presidential campaign and administration in American history has amassed anything close to 27 criminal convictions after less than three years in office.

        Now I will express some opinion:

        “Stepping out in faith to protect the First Amendment” strikes me as a cool phrase. Maybe it’s just my love of irony, in this case that it would take a jolt of religious fervor to defend a doctrine so famously neutral about religion. But whatever floats your boat. My test of someone’s fealty to the First Amendment is not so much one of motivation — religious or not — but of result. To be a First Amendment patriot, you have to be able to say, in the statement often misattributed to Voltaire, “I disagree with what you say, but would defend to the death your right to say it.”

        When you worry about people who fear losing their jobs for supporting Trump but cite as a positive counterweight to your overall criticism of alleged media bias the firing of a radio host who has recited facts critical of the president, your self-proclaimed love for the First Amendment is shown for what it is: a fraud.

  2. It is quite unsettling that people enjoy having their news censored. I think people have become lazy in a time when there has never been more available information to see. In Vermont, the news isn’t reported, it’s either manufactured or left out. By using censorship by omission, only one side of a story makes it into the article thus formulating whatever narrative is being pushed. Yet, 501C3 nonprofit news organizations who are supposed to be nonpartisan due to IRS regulations regularly push report whatever bias they support to their choir of readers due to lack of enforcement. It’s the same as politicians taking an oath to protect the constitution under the pains and penalties of perjury. When was the last time a politician was charged with perjury for writing laws that violate the constitution, which they do and have done regularly. In a world of snitches and busy bodies most people who actually might have a comment now hide in the shadows.

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