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National Hug a Newsperson Day

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“If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world; but I’m sure we’d be getting reports from Hell before breakfast”

– William Tecumseh Sherman

Sonoma residents were clearly unaware that last Wednesday, April 4, was National Hug a Newsperson Day.

It was an occasion seemingly celebrated by one person and one-person only: 7-year-old Evie Walsh. And only then after a second bedtime reading of “The Whingdingdilly.”

That being said, in commemoration of National Hug a Newsperson Day, the website nationaltoday.com surveyed 1,000 news junkies to ask them their general thoughts about newspersons – and for snuggable journalists everywhere, the results are troubling to say the least.

To begin with, the survey posed a question long mused by many: “Would you hug a newsperson if you could?” (Well, Sonoma?) And a mere 4 percent said yes – an even lower percentage than those who said, “yes,” when we asked them out on dates in college. Then, as if smelling blood, the website followed up with, “Do you think your local newspersons are sexy?” Again, crickets – only 4 percent had a glad eye for the scrum. (Clearly the 95476 zip code wasn’t queried.)

But perhaps the most distressing result was that a grand total of 18 percent “think it’s a tough time to be a newsperson right now.” Oh, really America? Eighty-two percent of you think making sense of planning commission staff reports and sorting through thousand-page public-information requests is some sort of day at the beach?

Think we spend every day writing about dopey websites that make up pointless holidays? No, that’s only part of our job.

Perhaps sensing that newspersons might feel somewhat crestfallen by the results of the survey, the staff at nationaltoday.com offered a few helpful tips on how America could properly celebrate National Hug a Newsperson Day:

Hug a newsperson. Well, duh. Though they caution against stepping over the line into stalking-a-newsperson territory. It’s a bit of a grey area, actually.

Read the news. A novel concept. Those of you who have gotten this far can tick this one off your list.

Tell your favorite newsperson how much you appreciate them. (Email jason.walsh@sonomanews.com, please.)

Though it’s not part of the journalist-cuddling survey, I’d like to recommend another way for readers to show their appreciation for newspersons that doesn’t involve mental images of spooning Jim Lehrer. And that simple gesture would be – appreciate that we at the Index-Tribune don’t work for Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Earlier this month, Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns nearly 200 TV stations across the country and has a conservative-leaning reputation, required under threat of dismissal that its news anchors parrot a script decrying, “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country… (intended) to control ‘exactly what people think.’”

In other words, it was fake news about fake news.

The irony wasn’t lost on most media watchdogs, and Sinclair and its poor anchors – at least one of whom resigned over “forcing local news anchors to lie to their viewers” – were subsequently roasted in the headlines for what turned out to be one of several “must-run” stories Sinclair has required its local journalists to run in recent years, no questions asked.

Sinclair spokespeople defended the promotion as a public-service announcement in support of quality journalism. Others in the media, however, saw it differently – as a scheme to delegitimize all journalism that wasn’t Sinclair.

It certainly played into President Trump’s consistent efforts to smear any media unfavorable to him. “So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased,” wrote Trump, a longtime supporter of Sinclair. “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”

In an anonymous letter to the media released April 5, a group of employees from an unnamed Sinclair station wrote how they “hated the way the PSA bashed other news outlets and the way it insinuated that we were the only truthful news source — despite the rightward tilt our network has taken over the years.”

The employees said they were coerced into running the piece out of fear of losing their jobs.

“Despite the lip service it pays to ‘journalistic integrity,’ (the promo) encourages the opposite,” they wrote.

Still think it’s a cakewalk being a newsperson these days survey respondents?

Perhaps the journalists at Sinclair can find comfort in the fact that challenges to journalistic integrity are as old as newsprint itself. For every Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair and Sean Hannity, there are 10 Edward R. Murrows toiling away in obscurity at a mid-size daily or community newspaper trying their best to accurately inform the public, bring transparency to government and, to borrow from the Washington Post, prevent democracy’s untimely demise.

Still, nobody’s perfect. Perhaps the most disgraced journalist of the past 100 years is Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow Bureau Chief from 1922 to 1936, who cozied up to Joseph Stalin so much that he became something of an unofficial politburo apologist for the famines and other crimes the Soviet government waged against its own people. In 1932 he won a Pulitzer Prize, natch.

So, hey Sinclair anchors, at least you’re not Walter Duranty. At least not yet.

Perhaps the anonymous-letter-signing Sinclair employees put it best:

“It’s already an uncertain, strange time for journalists. Trust in the media is low. Right now, journalists need all the support they can get.”

And, it would seem, a hug.

Email Jason at Jason.walsh@sonomanews.com