What was once the Cold War is now the Information War. I read that on Twitter, because that’s where I collect the sources I “trust,” to an extent, by tapping the shiny blue Follow button.
I would amend that statement, however, to include not “Information War” but “War on Information.” Now, I am guilty of reading in denial, or clicking off the news after it becomes too gruesome. That’s not what this is, nor is it codger-y anti-press rhetoric.
It is not even Trump nor his administration inciting anti-press feelings where there were none. The public has long flayed the press, and speech, for that matter – in 1918, we passed the Sedition Act to essentially outlaw anti-war speech in World War I America; in Nazi-era Germany, we were the “Lügenpresse,” or lying press; in today’s world, Trump’s strategist Stephen Bannon said media should “keep its mouth shut.”
This “opposition,” to borrow another Bannon phrase, surprises no one. The echoes of public opinion on the press filter even into my statistics class, where just this week one of our practice problems, likely dated, if ever true, identified only 17 percent of the American public as believing the press was doing a good job. This was when all the heads in class turned to me, and I merely shrugged. I was surprised it was not lower.
What is frightening as a student journalist is not this mood – if we have made it even this far, we have thick skin – but that this War on Information extends beyond just a hatred for press to a hatred for any information whatsoever. One morning after the inauguration, there I was, back on Twitter, and CNN had tweeted a photo of Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day framed photograph, which identified the date of the inauguration as January 21.
Say what you will about crowd size – enough Americans attended the inauguration and enough watched it live that agreement over the date as January 20 should be immediate. And yet, commenters, echoing Trump’s claims of CNN as “fake news,” argued that the story – which only consisted of the photo and the claim the inauguration was a day earlier – was inaccurate.
What a waste of energy. We have become so irreconcilable along party lines, even in between party lines, that we are dismembering ourselves through our unwillingness to accept the most insignificant of data. If we can’t agree on an easily verifiable date, how will we seek information when it counts?
Just look at our neighbor’s situation. Currently, the University of Kentucky is suing its own student newspaper for “requests for documents involving the investigation of James Harwood, an associate professor of entomology accused of sexual assault and harassment in an investigation spanning seven months, after three years’ worth of allegations,” according to USA Today.
Initially the state attorney general ordered UK to release the documentation with the names of student victims removed, which the university denied, citing an invasion of privacy. The denial, however, violates Kentucky’s Open Records Act, under which the documentation should have been made available after Harwood’s dismissal from the university.
And now Judge Thomas Clark has ruled in favor with the university, claiming that even without victims’ names, the release of the documents would still violate privacy rights. The Kentucky Kernel, the student newspaper in question, vows to appeal.
Ouch. The persistence of the Kernel inspires me, but this inspiration is inextricable from an anger that it is even necessary. Image is precious, I understand, but does UK think it is the only university that sexual assault has sullied? Have we already forgotten the Brock Turner case out of Stanford this summer?
No university – not even the one with the lowest acceptance rate in our country – is immune, yet we still do not care enough to take any sort of action to prevent this or even save lives. I am not even talking about “Yes means Yes” philosophy spouting or other laborious campaigns. I am talking about simply getting the information out there, so students can act accordingly.
Why universities are even required to release any crime data at all is because of the Clery Act, named after Jeanne Clery, who was raped and murdered in 1986 by a fellow Lehigh University student. Only after her death did her parents discover 38 violent crimes had occurred at Lehigh in the three years preceding Clery’s death.
The consequences of ignorance are, and have always been, dire. As a prospective college student, I would like to think the powers at be care enough about my life to release vital information willingly, but I know better. So though I flip and flop journalism in and out of my career considerations, my gratitude for those who seek to inform never wavers.
This is not a pandering, pitiable party war, so sip your skepticism with your morning coffee: no one is asking you to believe every article or every retweet. But seek the truth, even if you despise those who report it.