• Reading Level 5
PSHE | History | Geography | Citizenship

‘This is pre-fascism’ says top US professor

Is it local news that can save democracy? It might sound far-fetched. But respected academic Timothy Snyder is devastating in his diagnosis of America’s ills – and lucid in his prescription. The sun is shining upon the rows of picket fences. Inside almost every house, families huddle around the new edition of the County Herald in deepest, rural America. Dodgy dealings in the local school; plans for a supermarket near a nature reserve; results of municipal elections. This was 1970. Then the USA boasted 1,748 daily newspapers. No court case, council meeting or corruption scandal went unreported. Those days are over. In the past 15 years, the US has become a local “news desert”. More than one in five papers have closed. The number of journalists has halved. Local TV has given way to broadcasting giants who fill the airwaves with political propaganda. It is not alone in this. Between 2007 and 2019, the number of areas in Britain with a local paper nosedived from 380 to 142. As night follows day, say the analysts, trust in the press has plummeted. In Britain the share of people who believe the news “most of the time” is down from 50% to 28% in just five years. Today 27% of Americans have “not very much” trust in media and 33% “none at all”. The substitute? Social media. And this, says Tim Snyder professor of history at Yale University, “…supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.” For Snyder, this has created a post-truth age which led directly to the nightmare of 6 January when a mob stormed the seat of American democracy in the name of the outgoing president. He believes the relationship between Trump and the media mirrors Nazi Germany. Hitler and Trump both came to power in the aftermath of an economic calamity. Both hated the mainstream media. The Nazis called it “Lügenpresse” – the lying press. Trump calls it “fake news”. Both attacked journalists as “enemies of the people”. Looking at these patterns, Snyder says: “Post-truth is pre-fascism.” Snyder sees local media as the key to averting an authoritarian future. “If people don’t have local news,” he writes, “they don’t believe in the media in general. If they do have local news, they might also believe other reporters.” Many support this view. In June, Google donated $15 m to fund a Support Local News campaign. A report by research institute Brookings found that places without local newspapers are more likely to be politically divided. So is it local news that can save democracy? Stop press Yes, say many. Truth and trust start at home. If there is a thriving local media system that proves its worth in towns and villages, then the craft and skill of accurate journalism is more likely to be fostered at all levels. And if people demand accurate information, the big national titles will be obliged to keep their standards up as well. In this way, local news provides a safeguard against new fascism. Too late, say others. Social media has insinuated itself into our lives. If we want to protect democracy, we need to find a new approach which takes into account the interconnected, digitally-enhanced world we live in today. KeywordsPropaganda - Information, which may be biased or misleading, used to promote a certain viewpoint.

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