Every legislative session brings with it its share of highlights and challenges, as legislators understand. For years, responsible journalists have covered the North Dakota legislative process and most have done so responsibly. Recent sessions have seen a dramatic slippage in that responsibility which only seems to be getting worse.
"Fake News" is a term which has caught on in the national lexicon and apparently for good reason. Sadly, it's becoming far too common in North Dakota. The lines are too often blurred between attack dog bloggers, commentators and true journalists. Some journalists still do a good job and usually get it right. Far too often, however, their good work is drowned out by the howls of the smear merchants.
The latest example (although, sadly, there have been several this legislative session) was an attack reported by The Forum, ostensibly spurred by a member of the Fargo School Board, against us which was later parroted and harpooned by one of The Forum's "opinion" columnists.
The salacious subject this time? A reported sinister, "tricky" attempt which we were accused of masterminding in order to "resurrect" a bill dealing with those who are allowed to carry a gun at a public gathering—an attempt, they charged, to get guns into schools.
Never mind that, when The Forum attacked us by name, we had no idea what writers were talking about, nor had we had anything to do with what they alleged.
Never let the facts get in the way of a good political attack, right?
The bill The Forum referenced—SB 2172—was introduced in January by Sen. Robert Erbele, R-Jamestown, and we, at that time, agreed to sign onto it as cosponsors. The simple, 2-page piece of legislation allowed specific members of the judicial branch of government be armed at a public gathering if they'd received the same training and achieved the same proficiency required of law enforcement officers. This bill came about because the prime sponsor was approached by retired judges who felt their lives were threatened in public because of legal decisions they had made or influenced. It was passed unanimously by the Senate.
That's it. That was the extent of our involvement in a good bill, early last January. Now, wild false accusations are swirling that we've cooked up some conspiracy to amend the bill to somehow endanger schools. Unbelievable. The people of North Dakota deserve better.
Investigating the ridiculous attacks, we've learned that the bill, which was assigned to the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has been amended by that committee. None of us is a member of that committee, nor have we had any contact with it to amend this bill in any fashion. In fact, reading the amendment the committee crafted, it doesn't even appear that it does what The Forum's alarmists have alleged.
No surprise there.
Our only connection with the bill is our names on it, as cosponsors, in its original form, months ago. Apparently, in what passes for journalism at The Forum these days, that's enough for the attack of the week.
If The Forum had actually done its homework, it would have discovered which committee this bill was assigned to, read who proposed amendments to it and actually talked with people on the committee in question before attacking those who cosponsored an unamended bill months ago. That would require actual gathering and reporting of facts and telling the truth—sadly an apparently lost art of journalism from days gone by, but that doesn't have to be the case.
We would hope that, in the future, those who accept the serious mantle of being journalists, including those at The Forum, would return to the time-honored ethics and practices of the profession—gathering and truthfully, responsibly reporting the news. Our legislative colleagues work hard to represent those who elected them. They're not perfect but, in our experience, they're good, honest, hard-working, well-intentioned public servants who serve with great sacrifice. Good journalists have reported upon their actions, good or bad, for years and that's fair game. Shouldn't it be done in a fair, responsible, professional fashion, once again. Wouldn't that be a refreshing change for us all?