Meredith C. Carroll: At the intersection of Aspen and Donald Trump
Editor’s note: Meredith C. Carroll’s column, which had published on Tuesdays, now runs Wednesdays.
Thirteen years ago, when my now-husband, who was the then-editor of the Aspen Daily News, and I first went out to lunch together, I thought it was a meeting even though he knew it was a date.
“Off the record,” I said in a stage whisper after spilling a juicy tidbit about a mutual acquaintance.
He smiled. “I didn’t realize we were on the record.”
Like homophobes who inexplicably live in fear of gay people forcibly converting them to homosexuality, there are those who also nonsensically believe much of what they do or say is newsworthy. At the same time, reporters can find themselves on the receiving end of a tantrum by bona fide newsmakers contending the remarkable thing they’ve done or said is unequivocally mundane.
President Donald Trump is a living, breathing, tweeting demonstration of just how much the function of the press is widely and wildly misunderstood. Fortunately, March 12 to 18 is national Sunshine Week, which was established in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors to coincide with James Madison’s birthday. The goal is, in part, for the American Society of News Editors, The Associated Press and the Associated Press Media Editors to further the public’s education on “the role that a free flow of news and information play in a well-informed citizenry.”
This year’s Sunshine Week couldn’t have come at a better time. It was already great before him, although if nothing else, Trump has succeeded in making America gripe again by aiding and abetting in the annihilation of the line between fact and fiction. Even still, it’s hardly a ruse he invented: A small city that acts like a big one with two daily papers and a gaggle of local radio station reporters, Aspen covets news about itself. That is, until the news includes people they care for or topics they don’t, at which time the Trump-like “This isn’t news!” avowals can be heard from Smuggler to the Sundeck.
As Trump skids even further into the Twilight Zone and farther away from human beings in possession of an intellect larger than a Smurf, on a much smaller level it seems as if there’s a similar swelling paranoia about the role and purpose of Aspen’s media. Perhaps more so than cities 500 times its size, there is an abundance of people here who feel categorically entitled to try to control the narrative by declaring what’s wrong with the local papers and how they would report the news differently, and better (because “I worked on my high school newspaper” or “I took a journalism class in college” or “I’ve lived here longer than you” or “My house is bigger”).
At the same time, though, no one would deign to instruct a cardiologist on how to best perform open-heart surgery (other than very, very carefully) or explain calculus to a math teacher (to their face, anyway). However, countless amateur writers and self-assured critics believe the front-and-center nature of newspapers gives them license to determine what’s fit to print.
Except there’s a night-and-day difference between an actual reporter and, say, a former fraternity newsletter writer, including knowing how to thoroughly investigate and write a story independent from their personal beliefs. While reporters are not robots that lack any speck of bias, the good ones are well educated on how to separate church and state as a matter of skill, integrity and ethics.
From the variety and placement of news stories and headlines to which letters to the editor get printed, to opinion writers daring to have an opinion and some local activists barring members of the press from so much as listening in on political discussions as private citizens (so that other participants can feel “safe to share”), it’d be tough to shake a tree around here and not have an aspen leaf fall on someone presenting as gospel an unsophisticated, ignorant or uninspired grievance about how what’s above the fold instead belongs above the fray. If Trump is a special snowflake, Aspen’s brand of powder is starting to reveal a similar preciousness.
A news story or op-ed piece is neither unnewsworthy nor fake news simply by virtue of the fact that it may include you, someone you know or like — or written by someone you don’t. Those calling out Trump for his false and outrageous distortions would be wise to reflect on how their behavior is eerily similar. Regardless of your provenance, keeping an open mind to all perspectives is one key to attracting and retaining a respectful and respectable audience.
As the sun shines down this week, be sure to let it shine in, too, because meaningful reflection, evolution and growth can be considerably more challenging to achieve in the dark.
Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll. More at MeredithCarroll.com.