Today I hosted “News and Views with Joel Heitkamp” on KFGO 790AM based in Fargo, ND. I had hoped to have some time to talk about the subject of a FiveThirtyEight article sent to me this week but ran out of time. The article interprets a Gallup poll that shows Americans basically have little to no trust in our institutions anymore. It was unfortunate we didn’t have time because a caller named Bob raised the point he didn’t trust anything the CIA had to say about potential Russian hacking during the 2016 election. A perfect segue but we had a guest lined up and never got back to it.
One of the institutions Americans have lost trust in is media, specifically newspapers and television news. Being a critical observer and consumer of news is something I encourage. Dismissing outright a profession that is critical in keeping officials accountable is not. Some profess media is the fourth pillar of democracy for a reason. They’re supposed to tell the stories some people don’t want to be told.
I’ve been on all sides of the media. I’ve been a simple consumer. I’ve been the subject of the media in elected office. And now, I guess you can loosely consider me a part of it. Don’t get it confused, though. I’m not a journalist. I am simply sharing stories I think have gone unreported and giving my perspective on stories I think are missing some details. All of it is done through my lens developed through my life experiences both in and out of public life.
So people, in general, have lost faith in traditional media, and now our elected officials are taking advantage of it. Look at how President-elect Donald Trump has characterized traditional media. He doesn’t need to talk with them all that often because they simply report every Tweet he makes anyway. He can say what he wants about anything and not answer to questions by journalists. He has brilliantly bypassed them.
Is the same going to happen in North Dakota with Governor Doug Burgum? Today is his first day on the job and Burgum’s first press conference as Governor was held. The only thing is, no questions were allowed by the journalists in the room. Instead, he’d make his position on the Dakota Access Pipeline known on social media. Sound familiar? Perhaps endorsing Trump for President during the campaign meant Burgum was also endorsing his leadership style?
The above image is a screen capture from James MacPherson. MacPherson is a reporter with the Associated Press in Bismarck. He is damn good at his job also. In fact, it was MacPherson who first questioned former Governor Jack Dalrymple about the pipeline spill that happened on a farmer’s field near Tioga. “It took nearly two weeks for officials to tell the public about it.” MacPherson wrote. All of it true. Officials wanted none of it to be aired publicly at the time. But that is the role of a journalist and why this fourth pillar is so important. As an observer, it seemed as though after MacPherson reported this story he fell out of the good graces of the Dalrymple administration.
Back to Burgum, it isn’t as though the media has been particularly hard on him. My God, the Fargo Forum issued a timeline of the relationship between him and his wife. It is examples like this where I understand why people are cynical towards media. When those who are supposed to hold those in power accountable are too cozy, things go unreported. Refusing to answer questions on controversial issues like Burgum did in his first press conference as Governor is a disservice to the public. Instead, he’ll go and have a staffer carefully craft a message about one of the biggest situations in our region over the last decade. A situation he has routinely deferred questions to Dalrymple. Well, Dalrymple is gone and Burgum has had months to prepare a position. And THAT my friends, is why people don’t trust elected leaders anymore either!
I guess what I’m saying is don’t outright dismiss such an important service in our system. Instead, be a critical observer of all sources. They play an important role.