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Walter Cronkite must be rolling in his grave

NIAGARA, Wis. — Within the past four years, the term “fake news” has entered the lexicon of our culture. I would never have expected to see the pairing of those two words in my lifetime. I grew up with the likes of Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. Then came Dan Rather, followed by John Dickerson, Nora O’Donnell and the crew at CBS news. Respected journalists, all. They dared to go where we could not — behind the Iron Curtain, on the front lines of the Vietnam War, in the streets of racial unrest — to see for themselves and then report the facts to the rest of the country. The news was broadcast over TV at 6-o’clock every night, and the nation watched and believed. We were an informed public; we certainly had our own opinions about what we heard and saw but at least we were all starting with the same factual information.

These days, we lack that shared starting point. Our personal political beliefs, as well as our age, have an impact on which news we watch, as well as where we get our information. Some of us still take the time to read the newspaper or news magazines. My husband and I do both. Retirement has made it possible for us to spend time reading Time magazine each week, in which journalists delve deeply into national and world issues. When we were younger and working and raising kids, we barely had time to tune in to the nightly television news, so maybe caught it on the car radio on our way to wherever we needed to be. Our kids now spend time on internet news outlets and routinely send us links to various articles.

What has happened slowly over time — but much quicker in the past 10 years or so — is the manner in which news is reported, depending upon which source you are using. Newspapers and magazines have generally “leaned” right or left. Television networks followed. We watch CBS in our home and sometimes switch to Fox News just to see the differences. The same holds true in radio. And the internet changed the game entirely. The emergence of the internet ushered in the likes of QAnon, which is downright frightening. There is no longer any common starting point upon which we can depend as a nation. The boundaries between fact and opinion — and complete fiction — have blurred so much that it is very challenging to know where the truth lies.

I recently read a very interesting Monday Morning Memo written by Roy H. Williams that asks the question, “What happened to the American press?” It provided a very interesting history lesson that helps to explain where we are today in our quest for truth and knowledge. Williams starts by quoting the First Amendment, drafted so long ago by James Madison. It reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The “press” alluded to in this most important constitutional amendment referred to the newspapers of our nation. Beginning with Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette, and for the next 200 years, the daily newspaper was everyone’s starting point for the truth. From coast to coast and border to border, we all read the same information and could count on its veracity. Then progress came along, with a computer that could fit in the palm of our hand — voila! We now have cell phones that serve as newspapers, televisions, encyclopedias, magazines, restaurant menus, instruction manuals, shopping malls, worldwide maps and phone books! Information 24/7 with the click of our fingers. Today, newspapers are struggling to remain viable.

As Williams also reminds us, “The computer chip gave us the internet, an unregulated realm where irresponsible people are free to spray false reports, fabricated data, and doctored photos across our society like a flamethrower washing over a field of dry grass. Presto, the world is on fire.”

Williams provides a brief historical overview of how we have arrived at where we are today regarding the media. He states, “The people of the United States own the airwaves of our nation. Regulating access to those airwaves began with the Radio Act of 1912, later to be replaced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1934. For most of the twentieth century, America had safeguards that made television and radio news reliable, but in the nine years between 1987, the seventh year of the Reagan presidency, and 1996, the fourth year of the Clinton presidency, those safeguards were quietly dismantled.”

There were two critically important safeguards that deserve a close look. The Fairness Doctrine was introduced in 1949 and required broadcasters to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was honest, equitable and balanced. If any news entity failed to serve the public in this manner, it could lose its license to broadcast. Needless to say, broadcasters of the day supremely disliked this doctrine. In 1987, Edward O. Fritts, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, argued that “broadcasters believe in fairness” and that the Fairness Doctrine was “unconstitutional and an infringement on free speech. It is an intrusion into broadcasters’ journalistic judgment.” President Reagan agreed, issued an executive order, and the Fairness Doctrine disappeared.

Ownership limits was another important safeguard. In 1927, the nation began to worry about what might happen if too few people controlled the news. Consequently, no one was allowed to own more than three television stations nationwide. That number was increased to five stations in 1944. Then the 7-7-7 rule of 1953 said no one could own more than seven TV stations, seven FM radio stations and seven AM radio stations. In 1985, 7-7-7 became 12-12-12. Then in 1996, the FCC eliminated all limits on radio stations and made it possible for anyone to own as many TV stations as he or she wanted as long as those TV stations were collectively reaching no more than 35% of the national audience. Investor dollars streamed in, and broadcast consolidation began. In 2002, the five member FCC voted 3-2 to eliminate the national audience limit.

As Williams summarizes, “Bingo, if you could put together enough money, you could now control the news. American newscasters were no longer required to serve the public interest, or to present both sides of an issue, or even to tell the truth. So, for the past eighteen years, we’ve been surrounded by flamethrowers on every side. I’m sure glad it hasn’t resulted in a polarized population.”

So, this historical perspective begs the question, “Where do we go from here?” We all know mistakes happen — especially if we do not spend enough time considering the consequences of decisions. This is no small issue. Correcting these two historical errors would go a long way to giving us back the “truth in reporting” we all need as a nation. Communication is key to a unified people — accurate communication is critical to our safety and potentially to our very existence. We certainly deserve nothing less.

——

NURSING HOMES

The usual senior living activity calendars and senior center menus are not being published to avoid confusion. Due to the coronavirus and the vulnerability of the elderly population, daily life in the senior living facilities and senior centers has changed dramatically.

All living facilities have closed their doors to public visitation, and the activity calendars have been modified to allow for one-to-one room visits only and individualized activities to keep residents engaged and active as much as possible while remaining within the health and safety guidelines provided by state health experts.

Group games are being substituted with individualized activities residents can do in their respective rooms. Staff are providing supplies as well as “overhead announcement bingo and trivia” games and “hallway games” that can be played in individual rooms or by sitting within individual room doorways.

YouTube and DVDs are being utilized to provide religious services. A big dose of gratitude and appreciation goes out to all senior care staff for their creativity, caring and perseverance through a difficult situation.

All senior centers also have been closed to any center-based activity. Until they re-open, no information is being published that talks about activities typically available at these centers. While some have reopened with limited seating, meals do continue to be delivered.

Some centers also are preparing meals to be picked up. Menus are printed below for those centers who are either preparing takeout or providing home-delivered meals. Questions can be directed to the individual centers at the numbers listed here.

SENIOR CENTERS

Alpha-Mastodon Center

906-875-3315

Amasa Center

906-822-7284

The Amasa Center is a curbside pick-up-only kitchen for now. Call ahead for Tuesdays through Thursdays. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Beef stroganoff, noodles and California vegetable blend.

Wednesday: Chicken, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and beet salad.

Thursday: Spaghetti, green beans and garlic bread.

Breen Center

906-774-5110

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Burritos.

Tuesday: Beef stroganoff, noodles and cauliflower.

Wednesday: Cabbage rolls and roasted potatoes.

Thursday: Eggs, bacon or sausage, fried potatoes and pancakes.

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen

906-875-6709

Crystal Lake Center

Iron Mountain

906-239-0278

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Sweet and sour chicken, rice and Oriental blend vegetables.

Tuesday: Egg bake, oatmeal and spiced applesauce.

Wednesday: Scalloped potatoes with ham, corn and dinner roll.

Thursday: Chicken ranch bake, noodles and peas.

Friday: Ham and cheese sub sandwich and carrot salad.

For more information, call Christine McMahon at 906-774-2256.

Felch Center

906-246-3559

Now open with limited seating from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Ham and cheese casserole, mixed vegetables and bread.

Tuesday: Grilled salmon, baked potato, broccoli bake, salad.

Wednesday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, peas, salad.

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.

715-528-4890

Director: Tiffany White

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Parmesan chicken breasts, baked sweet potato, roasted Brussel sprouts and fruit.

Tuesday: Mushroom Swiss burger, western baked beans, broccoli salad and fruit.

Wednesday: Liver and onions or chicken breast, mashed potatoes, cauliflower and pumpkin crisp.

Thursday: Broccoli cheese soup, ham sandwich with lettuce and tomato and fruit.

Friday: Spooky goulash, dark green salad, vampire garlic bread, creepy cookie, bars and fruit.

Fence Center/Town Hall

715-336-2980

For meal reservations, call 855-528-2372

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Florence Community Center/Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-528-4261

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Tipler Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-674-2320

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hillcrest Senior Dining Center, Aurora

For meal reservations, call 715-589-4491

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hermansville Center

Coordinator: Pam Haluska

906-498-7735

Iron River Center

906-265-6134

Now open with limited seating 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Home-delivered and/or takeout only on Thursdays. Menu for week —

Monday: Vegetable pizza, cottage cheese, fruit and milk.

Tuesday: Chop suey, rice, green beans, dinner roll, fruit and milk.

Wednesday: Seafood salad, tomato slice, hard-boiled egg, fruit and milk.

Thursday: Stuffed green peppers, waxed beans, breadstick, fruit and milk.

Niagara Northwoods Senior Cafe and Center

Meal site manager: Corrie Maule, 715-251-1603

Senior center director: Jill Anderson, 715-251- 4154

Norway Center

Director: Susie Slining

906-563-8716

The center will remain closed; however, takeout meals will be prepared for pick up – those picking up must call ahead and wear a mask. Menu for the week —

Monday: Tater tot casserole, glazed carrots, fruit, juice and dessert.

Tuesday: Beef enchilada, tomatoes, lettuce, beans, rice, fruit, juice and dessert.

Wednesday: Meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed corn, fruit, juice and dessert.

Thursday: Boiled dinner, ham, cabbage, potatoes, biscuit, fruit, juice and dessert.

Sagola Center

906-542-3273

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Chicken parmesan, noodles, green beans and breadstick.

Wednesday: Beef tips, mashed potatoes and peas.

Thursday: Taco casserole and salad.

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