When I found out I would be covering President Donald Trump and Lou Barletta last week, I was a little nervous.
I didn’t know what to expect heading up to Mohegan Sun Arena, or how my colleagues and I would be welcomed among both supporters and protesters.
It’s no secret that Trump dislikes the media.
And the way he uses a blanket term to talk about the press has trickled down into local communities. If you scroll through the comment sections of our website, you will see countless people use the term “fake news” on stories.
So it should be no surprise that I was concerned about covering the rally.
When we got inside the arena, there was a man with a sign that read “CNN Sucks.” When he walked around with it, people started chanting “CNN sucks,” and booing the journalists in attendance.
During those moments, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tense up, but outside of that, my experience with the people in attendance was much different.
Like any event that I’ve covered, there were some people who didn’t want to talk to the media. That’s not unusual. Aside from those, however, everyone I talked with was willing to talk about why they were in attendance, why they support Trump and Barletta and even about some of their wardrobe choices.
Two gentlemen I spoke to, Ken Hryhor and Chris Weite, traveled to the rally from Monroe Township.
I started speaking to both of them about why they made the trip, and identified myself as a Times Leader reporter.
“Lou Barletta is a great leader now and will be even better in the Senate,” said Weite, 34. “We need to make America great again.”
At no point did either of them use harsh language, or tell me I was part of the “fake media.”
Another man, Joe Helou, came to Wilkes-Barre Township from Long Island. I approached Helou because of his shirt, a white tee with the letter “Q” on it. The letter symbolizes the group “QAnon,” a group that believes conspiracy theory centered around an anonymous online figure who goes by “Q,” according to a recent National Public Radio story.
The theory is that special counsel Robert Mueller is actually investigating top Democrats for criminal activity.
As a citizen, I’m intrigued by the theory, but as a journalist, I was a little nervous to ask Helou for an interview. But he noticed that I spotted his shirt. He asked me if I wanted to take a picture, and I asked if he would talk to me about the shirt. He agreed, and told me why he was there.
“I am in support of the QAnon movement and in support of the president,” he said. “I am not a spokesman.”
Helou said he had never attended a Trump rally, but wanted to experience it.
It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and point blame at both sides, and I am not going to pretend Trump’s rhetoric isn’t damaging to the press. It is.
But, as Barletta wrote to the Times Leader, we’re not fake news.
“I have done interviews with media from all over the world, yet without fail the most honest and objective stories are reported by local journalists. Even on the toughest subjects, I know that when I talk to the Times Leader, I am going to get a fair shake. That’s all anyone can ask from their local newspaper, even when we disagree,” Barletta wrote in a letter to the editor published on today’s editorial page.
I appreciate Barletta’s words.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the rhetoric to forget that most local organizations don’t have a sweeping bias, and just want to do the due diligence in keeping their communities informed.
Reach Brigid Edmunds-Lawrence at 570-991-6113 or on Twitter @brigidedmunds