Where the military preaches caution, we see another example of a worrisome trend.
On Thursday evening in Hilo, the media was banned from a meeting outlining Army plans to manage historic resources at Pohakuloa Training Area and Kawaihae Military Reservation.
A West Hawaii Today reporter was kicked out of the Aupuni Center room where the general public was freely allowed in. When questioned as to why, the military said the participating parties may not feel comfortable expressing their opinions in the presence of the media.
At least 75 people were in attendance, including Jim Albertini, an activist who has frequently been at odds with the military operations around PTA.
The media is part of the public. It’s still, in fact, a voice for the people. The media landscape has changed over the years — the reach of Albertini’s critical opinions of the military online and via mass email is information sharing that wasn’t possible years ago. But traditional news is still the public’s Fourth Estate.
While it’s long been trendy to bash the media, today it’s more in vogue than ever. President Donald Trump made it one of his many targets prior to his election. We’ve all heard the disparaging titles, “fake news,” “enemy of the people,” etc.
It’s not the hyper partisan name-calling that’s most troublesome. Of his many traits, Trump can come off as a brash, toe-stomping reality television star where insults are part of his brand.
To be clear, Trump didn’t boot WHT from anything Thursday night. And the media in general is far from being without flaw or reproach. That’s not the point here.
But while we find the hyper-vilification of the media disturbing, what’s worrisome is how traces of those extreme examples can seep into the conscious of everyday Americans — seemingly without them being aware.
Here we see a red flag warning us of exactly that. PTA’s action Thursday appears to be just another recent example.
Since the 2016 election, we’ve come across normal, everyday people on the island who’ve never had direct interaction with the media yet they assumed it printed fake news. They learned it didn’t because they became involved in a story and the story verified and used the information the source provided. After the story ran, on more than one occasion, those sources told WHT they were surprised to see the truth printed.
We’ve dealt with Hawaii politicians who openly despise the president yet are still quick to use his words, “fake news,” when expressing disagreement about an article they felt didn’t portray them correctly. Or, perhaps more accurately stated, didn’t portray them in a flattering light.
We’ve heard state organizations suddenly use the same self-congratulatory language the White House uses when doing damage control. Those organizations on island have said they did “an outstanding job, a remarkable job” when discussing their actions after their missteps.
Some of it we can just chalk up to benign, vernacular quirks. They’ve been influenced even though they probably wouldn’t want to admit it.
But some of it, like booting the media from a public gathering, we cannot write off as simply silly. Kicking a reporter out of a public meeting is a serious issue. It cannot become the norm.
The United States military is a first-rate operation. If it says it wanted to err on the side of privacy and caution, we can take that at face value this time around, but still disagree with its decision. The information inside that meeting is meant for the public and WHT will get it and share it, regardless.
But the military also brands itself on being an institution of values, protecting democracy and the weak, as well as molding future leaders, not only for this country, but for the world. That’s a monumental task.
We hope its leaders understand how important it is to fulfill those requirements guided by their own true morals and mission — not tainted with yapping from above, whether they realize it or not.