Dispatch from the Editor: Words are powerful; we should use them wisely

Words matter.

That became clear last week as protesters ransacked the U.S. Capitol, goaded on by the president and others under his watch.

What isn’t said matters.

That was also clear, to me at least, when I saw the photographs of legislators crouching under their seats as the mob invaded the building. If you don’t speak up against hateful speech or threats, against baseless conspiracy theories, it will come back to bite you.

As we approach the federal holiday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it’s under a dark shadow of the hate and violence that King peacefully protested against. On Pages 11-12 is a story about some of the documented hate groups at the Jan. 6 protest. On Page 10, you can find the region’s commemorations of the holiday.

There’s much trepidation about what will happen next. I’m on an email chain with editors of weekly newspapers across the country. This week, editors in large cities were discussing buying bulletproof vests leading up to Inauguration Day. The words “murder the media” were carved into a door at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 melee in which some journalists were assaulted and had gear destroyed. While this is disturbing, it isn’t surprising, if you’ve been paying attention. Trump disparaged the press relentlessly during his term, describing journalists and major media outlets as fake, failing and the enemy of the American people. There’s a saying that thoughts lead to words, which lead to deeds. So, it isn’t surprising that Trump’s supporters attacked those documenting the events of that day.

While Washington, D.C., can seem far away, these sentiments circulate among friends and neighbors. As I was writing this column I received an email letting me know about a “conservative” business owner who would no longer be advertising in Inland 360 because the newspaper “can’t print the truth.” I wonder what that person’s truth is?

This Monday, Jan. 11, was the first in more than a century that the Lewiston Tribune did not publish and distribute a newspaper. The Moscow-Pullman Daily News also stopped publishing on Mondays. The cost-saving measure was announced weeks ago, but when I was in the office Monday morning phone calls were flooding in: “Why didn’t I get a paper this morning?” Over and over the clerks explained that the Monday edition was no more.

Many readers know that the independent press is being downsized and squeezed by a wide variety of factors. Any time I mention this in a column, I get a spiteful email or phone message about how the newspaper deserves to die. The person’s reasons nearly always boil down to a political bent and perception that the newspaper does not reflect their view. But a newspaper is something far greater than one fiery moment in history, just as a democracy is more significant than one president.

Mary Minton, the historian featured in this week’s cover story about Lewiston’s long-gone Hotel DeFrance, told me the vast majority of her research came from the Tribune archives. We would know little about this hotel and its owner without the work of past reporters, editors and photographers.

In another story in this week’s edition, bestselling author Jess Walter talks about a moment in 2020 when he realized he was living in a pivotal time. It was the same realization a character has in his new novel, “The Cold Millions,” set in 1909 during the free speech riots.

It seems we’re at a turning point. Whatever direction we choose, history will take note.