On Politics: The decline of the American moderate

In this Aug. 2 photo, President Donald Trump, right, greets Senate candidate Rep. Lou Barletta during a rally in Wilkes-Barre Township. – Matt Rourke | AP Photo

It may surprise some of you to hear that there are people who think this newspaper is too conservative and doesn’t hold President Trump and Washington Republicans accountable for their actions.

It will surprise others to hear a different segment of the public is convinced we are nothing more than a liberal mouthpiece that will never give Trump and the GOP a fair shake.

So no doubt it caused great merriment online — by which I mean 79 rip-roaring comments and growing, as of my last count Monday night — after U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta wrote us a letter over the weekend in which he said this newspaper is “fair and accurate.”

That was his response to an editorial in which we asked if Barletta agreed with Trump that journalists are the enemy of the people, and whether that would include local media like us.

Barletta said he felt the Times Leader and other local media to be fair, but “unfortunately, the national media does not cover President Trump with the same objective lens.”

That’s a fair argument, not just because it painted us in a positive light, but because any viewer with a pulse can easily see how polarized cable news coverage has become — though it’s also obvious that some media outlets happily overlook the president’s frequent aversion to facts he dislikes.

As the click-baiters say, though, you won’t believe what happens next.

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What does it take in 2018 to get a hardcore MAGA patriot to criticize the words of a respected Republican such as Barletta?

Dare suggest any media are fair.

A commenter who calls himself American Johnny — hopefully not a Russian bot trolling us from some Moscow boiler room — made that painfully clear in response to Barletta’s letter.

“Well this is the first time I disagree with something Barletta said,” American Johnny wrote.

“The Times Leader is no different then any other news sources. They are bias and they are trying to push the same liberal agenda as all the other news outlets,” American Johnny continued in English that makes me wonder if he isn’t really Lyudmila from St. Petersburg.

“It’s already started with multiple pro Casey stories, anti-Barletta stories, and not to mention the fake polls,” Lyud — I mean American Johnny — continued.

Funny, that, given what a commenter called John Wills had to say farther down the thread.

“What you’re seeing here is Barletta puckering up to plant one on the TL, probably not on the lips,” Wills wrote. “His coverage, mostly by one writer, is unfailingly fawning and flattering. Wonder why.”

So we’re trying to push a liberal agenda at the same time as we’re apparently fawning over Republican Barletta, at least according to those two commenters.

In fairness, the rest of of the comments mostly devolved into people trashing one another, as usual, but like American Johnny and John Wills many also weighed in on our alleged bias — the common denominator being that they also suggested whatever we write is unfair to the side they support.

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The fact that people with different opinions project opposing biases onto us isn’t proof of anything. It also isn’t new. We often quip in this business that if both sides criticize your coverage on an issue, you’re probably doing something right.

Like so much in our time however, the crossfire in which journalists find themselves while covering politics has reached new, often frightening levels of intensity.

Too many of our fellow Americans suffer from an acute case of confirmation bias. Too many believe the purpose of the media is to tell them only what they want to hear, only what they believe to be true.

To be a moderate of any stripe in these times is to have your voice lost in a sea of partisan screaming. To be a centrist is worse, painted by both sides as a traitor.

Local newspaper journalists, striving to look at critical issues from as many perspectives as possible at a moment when we all have fewer resources to do this important civic work, can relate.

We’ve always known it was impossible to make everyone happy, and that has never been our goal. We simply want to document the world around us and inform readers about it as we’ve traditionally done, without being labelled enemies of the people by the most powerful man in the land and millions more besides.

“Don’t shoot the messenger” feels more like a literal prayer than a tired cliche.

But don’t cry for us. Cry for a country in which Americans have turned on strangers, friends and even family with a viciousness that portends worse to come. Cry over how many seem to revel in that.

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I’ll leave you with something a frequent commenter called BigBadWolf34 had to say in the Barletta letter thread.

“There are 3 or 4 articles on the TL with good things happening in the community yet zero comments,” the ’Wolf wrote.

“Go figure.”

In this Aug. 2 photo, President Donald Trump, right, greets Senate candidate Rep. Lou Barletta during a rally in Wilkes-Barre Township.


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