When an angry retiree spouts off about something and is completely wrong, it’s easy to just nod and ignore them.
But some voters and politicians are still enthralled with former President Donald Trump, so we need to set the record straight when he misleads people about things like election results, Russian meddling and legislation.
That’s what Trump did at a rally Saturday in Iowa, where he wildly mischaracterized the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, a bipartisan bill that would help save the local news industry with temporary tax credits.
Among other whoppers, Trump said the bill is a payoff to reporters who are “all going out right now, they’re going to buy a new car. Nice one, too.”
Not at all. The credits would go to publishers employing journalists, to retain jobs as the industry struggles to survive.
For newspaper reporters, 60% of whom lost their jobs over the last 15 years as thousands of papers and newsrooms closed, the bill could mean they still have a job next year. If it passes, I may celebrate by getting a third timing belt for our beat-up Honda, so it can get past 300,000 miles.
It’s not clear whether Trump misunderstands the legislation, or he’s deliberately twisting the truth because he assumes the audience is uninformed and unconcerned about facts. Either way it’s sad, disrespectful and corrosive.
He isn’t the only demagogue. There are politicians across the spectrum, including in lefty Seattle, that exploit fears, anxiety and resentment, promise the sky and avoid questions about their failures and who they’re really helping.
That’s why every community needs robust local news coverage. Somebody has to hold politicians accountable, call out their spin and give voters better information than they’ll get from candidates, special interests, Facebook and who knows where else.
Obviously I’m biased, so instead take the word of Republicans and Democrats sponsoring the LJSA.
“Local journalists and newspapers are essential to ensuring the public remains informed,” U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Yakima Valley Republican, said in announcing the bill last year.
“Big cities may have strong papers, whereas smaller, perhaps more rural towns’ papers might be struggling with journalistic output,” co-sponsor Ann Kirkpatrick, an Arizona Democrat, said in the announcement with Newhouse. “We need to support local journalism and provide papers with options — after all, they are fundamental to American daily life and deserve to be treated as such.”
Illinois Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis concurred when he joined as co-sponsor in July. “Local newspapers and media outlets are a vital source of information for the public, and they’ve been hit hard by changing economic conditions, which the pandemic has only made worse,” he said in a release.
Trump attacked the measure as he railed against the $3.5 trillion spending package proposed by Democrats in Congress.
One relatively minuscule part of the reconciliation package would provide tax credits worth up to $1.3 billion to small news organizations, as called for by the LJSA.
Publishers could receive tax credits of up to $25,000 per journalist in the first year and $15,000 per year for the next four years.
“It’s not a handout, it’s a hand-up, to help them find a sustainable path forward,” Newhouse told me in June.
Tax credits are an elegant solution because they aren’t a direct subsidy, they are an incentive to invest in journalism. The government would have no influence over which newspapers take the credits or what they cover.
This is not giving money to reporters, who by and large can’t afford new cars, much less nice ones. The median salary for reporters last year was $49,300, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it’s generally less at the small and mostly rural newspapers that the LJSA will especially help.
Trump falsely said the bill subsidizes reporters “at media outlets all across the country, meaning liberal media outlets.”
Again, the LJSA was written to help papers with fewer than 750 employees. Most of America’s struggling papers and news deserts are away from the big, liberal cities.
Having a local paper has been shown to reduce corruption, lower the cost of government and increase civic involvement. Local papers also bind rural communities, reflecting their values better than national media.
You’d think that would make the LJSA a slam dunk among Republicans, especially in the heartland and among those concerned about upholding the Constitution and America’s strength.
Yet there were an awful lot of hoots and cheers in Iowa when Trump regurgitated toxic chestnuts about “the fake news industry” and journalists being “the enemy of the people.”