I blocked my uncle on Facebook today. This is a guy who could pass for a gentle, skinny Santa Claus, but I couldn’t take it anymore.
And this is just weeks after my brother-in-law threatened to block ME, after I posted several stories about Donald Trump (and a few on Hillary Clinton). Factual stories. Stories from trustworthy, mainstream media outlets reporting on the women alleging he sexually molested them. The 150 Republican officials who don’t support him, by the New York Times. The way he treated his alcoholic brother, also by the Times. The 199 most provocative things Trump has said, by Politico. The many appearances he’s made in Playboy, by The Hill.
This did not go over well with some of my Facebook friends.
If you’re one of those people who’s still confused about who Trump supporters are, let me help: They are my high school classmates — people who seemed liberal to me back then. They are my cousins – you might call a few of them rednecks. They are my mother, my father, and probably three of my four siblings. And yes, they mostly hail from rural, red states. And I love them all. They are salt of the earth, hard-working, mostly Christian people who would do anything for me, and probably you.
But my decision to post news stories about Trump unleashed a fury I have not seen in them before. My uncle began incessantly posting wrinkly-faced, Hillary-bashing memes and “stories” on my timeline. When he started attacking my bleeding-heart liberal daughter, I pulled the plug on our Facebook friendship.
What struck me about his timeline attack were his sources: Places like Patriots Reborn, ClashDaily.com, The American Patriot, Conservative News Today, John Q. Logic, ViralLiberty.com and LibertyWriters.
And then there’s my mom. She began rebutting my posts with her own, with sources like Minuteman Militia, FreedomDaily.com and the Conservative Tribune. Now I don’t think she’s a regular reader of these “publications,” but they fulfilled her need for return fire.
I pay attention to sources, because I’ve been a journalist covering all kinds of government for about 25 years. I know the source of information is crucial. If your source cannot be trusted, your story can’t be trusted.
And I think this, right here, is a big part of what has gotten Trump where he is. As the media landscape eroded with the arrival of the Internet, all kinds of questionable websites and “news outlets” have cropped up. FOX News paved the way with its “fair and balanced” (wink, wink) reporting – which my dad listens to non-stop and recites.
No longer do people just watch the evening news and read the daily newspaper to get their news. They can pick and choose whatever kind of news matches their opinion.
In fact, for several years I worked for one of those new news outlets. Sold as investigative journalism, Watchdog.org sought to fill the increasingly wide gap in coverage of U.S. statehouses with what it sometimes called point-of-view journalism. Over time, I learned this nonprofit was funded by right-leaning libertarians who liked things like fossil fuels and charter schools.
I saw how these news outlets work to further the causes of those that give them money, but ironically, many people no longer trust the “lamestream media” which tries to keep a wall between advertising and the newsroom.
Most of my Facebook friends seem to put more faith in FOX and whatever cockamamie news site they stumble upon while scrolling through their timelines. One of them said ABC, CBS and NBC are brainwashing America. Not FOX. Not MSNBC.
Here’s an example: My sister, a nurse, told me she’d never vote for Clinton “because of what she said about nurses.” What did she say about nurses? I asked. She called them glorified babysitters, my sister said. It took me about 10 seconds to Google that claim, and find that Snopes.com (which attempts to separate fact from fiction in urban myths and Internet rumors) found no evidence she ever said such a thing.
When I reported that back to my sister, she said, “Of course.”
In other words, of course the mainstream media says it’s not true. Of course, her biased news source has it right. Of course, her brainwashed journalist sister has it wrong.
Now, I know all journalists have their biases. Some are downright bad at hiding theirs. I’ve been guilty of that. But most of the journalists I’ve worked with do their level best to be fair and balanced – and not the FOX kind of fair.
But this election has made it crystal clear that many people no longer trust the mainstream media to give them the facts. They are more likely to believe one of Trump’s wild allegations – something he “heard” – than the New York Times.
When I was recently asked to be a stringer for the New York Times, I didn’t call my parents to tell them. In fact, I didn’t tell a single family member. Maybe I knew they wouldn’t necessarily be proud. I think two decades ago, early in my career, they would’ve. But things have changed. The New York Times is now the enemy. Trump has made that clear.
The day I heard Trump brag about how he wants to make it easier to sue journalists and bring down the Times was a sad day for me, as I listened to his crowd cheer. As it says on the Nebraska capitol, “The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness of the Citizen.” But if we don’t trust the journalists who are watching most closely, if the truth no longer matters — only our truth, as we see it — then where are we headed?
My parents are die-hard Christians – and so am I – but they’ve been thoroughly FOX-ified. Having covered politics for so long, I’ve seen good and bad people on both sides of the aisle. My family seems to think God is a Republican.
And so we argue about how Christians can support Trump, or Hillary. (I support neither.)
Which is why I don’t want to go home for Thanksgiving this year – for the first time in my life. We are not a family that dreads Thanksgiving. We are not a family who fights. We’re a family who loves each other truly, madly, deeply.
But I know my father won’t be able to restrain himself from talking politics, no matter who wins the election, and a battle will ensue. This election has exposed a huge divide between us: They don’t trust journalists like me anymore. And I don’t think we can turn back the clock to a time when they did. Not in my family, and not in America.
A version of this post originally appeared on City Pages.