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Port: How can journalists and academics serve the public if the public doesn't trust them?

If you tell people the truth, and the people don't believe the truth, what have you accomplished?

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A digital billboard on Interstate 94 encourages North Dakotans to wear a mask to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. David Samson / The Forum
We are part of The Trust Project.

MINOT, N.D. — Academia.

Entertainment, including the various sports leagues.

The news media.

These are America's dominant cultural institutions.

They're also not terribly welcoming places when it comes to right-of-center thinking.

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More than unwelcoming, they're often actively hostile.

Earlier this year a high-profile football coach almost lost his job because he wore a conservative T-shirt.

The newsroom of The New York Times has filled with people who aren't even pretending to be objective anymore .

Do I even need to go into the manifest examples of higher education's disdain for anyone who might have even a passing thought of voting for a Republican?

Is it any wonder, then, when at least two of these institutions try to convince right-of-center Americans that the COVID-19 pandemic is serious business that must be dealt with by things like masking and social distancing, that those Americans don't trust them?

Journalists and academics should care more that so many Americans have lost faith in them.

(We should all stop caring so much what celebrities think.)

The truth is the truth, you'll tell me, and the politics of the truth-teller shouldn't matter. I know that's the position taken by many journalists and academics (a group that includes the public health community). What they're telling us is true, they argue, and nothing else should matter.

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But if you tell people the truth, and the people don't believe the truth, what have you accomplished?

There is a public service component to both journalism and academia. In each endeavor, the point is enlightenment, whether it be the immediate issue of what's going on in the world today, or, on a longer timeline, the quest to understand what has been, what is, and what will be.

How well can you serve the public if vast swaths of the public don't trust you?

The immediate dilemma is presented by COVID-19. It is blindingly obvious that measures like masks and social distancing work. The academics and the journalists are telling us this, each in their own way. Yet here in North Dakota, one of the most right-of-center places in the nation, the resistance to those measures is widespread.

That resistance is born of a mistrust of the people touting the measures.

That's the problem we need to attack. It's upstream from the masking-and-social-distancing imbroglio.

Problem is, many of the people who work in these spheres are content to lash out at the dissenters. They blame Donald Trump and his "fake news" mantras as if growing mistrust of academia and the news media weren't trends that long predates the perpetually obnoxious lame-duck president.

It is incumbent upon the people who work in these industries to address that decline in trust.

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Are they willing?

I'm not so sure, but the more that trust declines, the more problems we're going to have.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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