political coverage Rural journalism

Trump policies to impact rural areas

Rural votes played a big role in Donald Trump’s victory, and he plans some big changes that will have a big impact in rural communities.

Extractive industries do most of their extracting in rural areas, and Trump promised “to topple just about every major energy and environment policy enacted in the past eight years,” Robin Bravender reported for Environment & Energy News.

The Obama administration policies most likely to be reversed are the Environmental Protection Agency’s redefinition of “waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act, strongly opposed by farm interests, and the regulations to limit carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

But there is little that Trump can do to bring back power-plant markets that coal has lost to cheap natural gas, experts said in an earlier blog item. In it, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the No. 3 coal state, said it is “hard to tell” whether a reversal of Obama’s policies will bring back the industry. Trump hasn’t said exactly how he would help coal, we noted at, an item that also noted his support of oil pipelines.

While Trump’s opposition to the water rule cemented his support among farmers, they worry about his opposition to trade agreements, which help U.S. agricultural exports and crop prices. Philip Brasher of the Agri-Pulse newsletter did a story the day after the election and we excerpted it at

Farmers are also worried about Trump’s stand on illegal immigration. Ironically, his election drove down the price of the Mexican peso from 6 cents to less than 5 cents, which could lead to more illegal immigration from the country, Bloomberg News reported. We excerpted it at

Trump held rural rallies to spur turnout, a strategy that supposed experts questioned but proved to be a sort of organic turnout operation, as I told Patrik Jonsson of The Christian Science Monitor the day after the election. We excerpted his story at Our day-after rural roundup of the election results is at

Katherine Cramer, a political-science professor at the University of Wisconsin, became a leading interpreter of Trump’s rural base because of her 2015 book, The Politics of Resentment, based on a long series of interviews with people in 27 Badger State communities. The Washington Post wrote her up, and then she did her own piece for the Post. We excerpted both, respectively, at

Cramer wrote that rural people in Wisconsin resent the political and economic dominance of Milwaukee and the capital of Madison, and their attitudes toward rural people. “They perceived that city folks called people like them ignorant racists who could not figure out their own interests,” she wrote. “To them, urban types just did not get small-town life—what people in those places value, the way they live, and the challenges they face.”

The Rural Blog is mainly aggregation, but we do the occasional story, and did the Sunday after the election, when Chuck Todd of NBC News featured comments from a leading farm-policy journalist on “Meet the Press.” Chris Clayton of DTN/The Progressive Farmer said in an MSNBC interview with Todd and others that Trump’s big rural margin may have been bolstered by resentment at repeated references in the news media to Trump’s popularity among both rural and lesser-educated voters.

“Rural America is not uneducated, even though maybe there are fewer people with college degrees than there might be in the metropolitan areas,” Clayton said, and his remarks stung Todd and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Brooks said, “People with college degrees voted very differently than people with high-school degrees, but when you say it, when you actually don’t have a college degree, you hear, ‘Oh, they think I’m stupid.’ I’m guilty of that because I use that shorthand too. And you saw so much sense of moral injury when you went around the Trump world.” Read our blog item at

The highly unusual election prompted more than the usual editorial commentary in rural newspapers, and we picked up some of it on The Rural Blog. You can read examples from both sides at and

I, for one, am glad the election is over and we can get back to more normal coverage. If you do or see stories that are relevant across rural areas, please send them to me at [email protected].


Ethics media criticism

Fake news: Nothing new in the history of journalism

Fake news is nothing new.  When people talk about it on the internet and social media, they treat it like it’s society’s newest trend.  But that’s far from the truth. Fake news is as old as … wait for it … the story of the birth of Jesus.

But let’s start with the definition of fake news:  It’s reporting stuff that never happened and treating it as true.

Like saying Hillary Clinton ran a child trafficking ring out of a pizza parlor in Washington.

And while the internet spreads fake news faster than ever before, it’s nothing new – fake news goes all the way back to the beginning of American journalism.

Some early news stories were probably fake just because there was no way to verify them.  Newspapers did the best they could, but if someone told the editor that the royal governor was stealing from the treasury, there was no way that could be checked out.

In 1782, no less a journalistic icon than Ben Franklin published a fake news story that Native Americans seeking an alliance with Britain had sent the king a “bag of scalps.” It never happened.

In 1835, the New York Sun ran a series that purported to report on an astronomer who had built a telescope powerful enough to observe life on the moon.  Not a story, mind you – a whole series of articles that described the moon inhabitants and their civilization in great detail.  And the end, the paper told its readers that they had just been kidding.

That’s only the tip of the fake news iceberg.  The stories about the new phenomenon of fake news are – you guessed it – fake news.  It’s been around as long as there has been news.

This week we celebrate the best news mankind has ever heard.  The news was so significant that God entrusted it to angels – the word “angel” is a Greek word for messenger.  According to scripture, God often entrusted news to “messengers” — you could say that angels were God’s journalists.

But as soon as the Good News about the birth of Christ was written down, the fake news started showing up.  And today, much of what we believe a bout the nativity story is fake news.

For instance:

•Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas. The early church set the day of Christ’s birth in December as a way to help replace a pagan festival that was held on Dec. 25.

•The angels did not sing to the shepherds. An angel spoke to the shepherds, then a lot of angels began praising God, but we have added the “singing” part.

•The wise men probably did not visit Jesus right after his birth in Bethlehem. They look cool in nativity scenes, but they really came a year or so later. And we’re not even sure there were three of them — we only infer that from the number of gifts.

But despite all the fake news about the good news we celebrate at Christmas, that good news is not diminished by the fake news and legends that have grown up around the birth of Christ.

And no less a philosopher than John Stuart Mill reminded us that truth is dynamic – so we should not ban false utterances because truth only becomes stronger when it grapples with a lie.  How do you know, Mill asked, whether what you believe is true, unless you have to defend it against non-truth?

Fake news is reprehensible, and digital media certainly give it more reach and power than ever before. So it’s important that newspapers report the truth and expose the lies.

The journalism “family tree” is a lot like your own.  There are saints and sinners, martyrs and scoundrels. But after more than two centuries that include lies and hoaxes and fake news, journalism has never been freer.  Or more responsible.

And that’s something we can all celebrate on a holiday dedicated to the original “good news.”