Our view: Dear Lou, are we the enemy of the people?

An open letter to The Honorable Lou Barletta.

Dear Lou,

You know us.

Not just “us” collectively as a newspaper, but us as individuals. Some reporters here have covered your political rise from your earliest days as a Hazleton councilman.

We have been charmed by your genuine smile and sincerity in interviews, we’ve felt the deep pride and love you have for your family and daughters. We’ve written about your passion for baseball.

We suspect your run for mayor of Hazleton against an incumbent (with the advantages that entails) succeeded in part thanks to this paper’s dogged investigative reporting of then-mayor Mike Marsicano.

Dare we also suggest this paper’s years of investigation into your predecessor in the House of Representatives, Paul Kanjorski, increased odds of success in your third triumphant effort to oust a deeply entrenched and politically powerful incumbent.

Yes, we’ve taken you to task over political moves. Some of us questioned your methods in fighting illegal immigration in Hazleton even as we supported the goal.

But we’ve also praised your efforts in other fields, most notably your adamant and bi-partisan support of the SHINE after-school program you helped bring to Luzerne County. This space has praised your work with Democratic State Sen. John Yudichak in making SHINE a reality, and we praised your decision to oppose President Trump’s intent to cut key funding for that program.

You know us. You’ve talked to reporter Bill O’Boyle many times. In fact, you helped Bill just this week when he received a call from a 95-year-old veteran who wanted to attend Trump’s rally at the Mohegan Sun Arena. You’ve talked to reporter Mark Guydish many times, most often at events promoting the SHINE success and the impact it is having on area children.

Here’s the question: Do you think we are “fake news”? Are we the “enemy of the people”? Are the reporters in this area — the one’s you’ve known for years, some of whom are from the Hazleton area where you grew up — “The most dishonest people?”

That’s what Trump calls us. He used some of those terms at Thursday’s rally. Not against the Times Leader specifically, but against reporters in general. He routinely waves a hand and slaps the labels on anyone present from the media.

This is dangerous. This is unhealthy. This is an attack on a core pillar of our democracy. If Trump has specific complaints about specific outlets, reporters or stories — including at the Times Leader — he has every right to question them, to call them out. Accuracy is our stock in trade. We must be held accountable.

But so must Trump.

This isn’t about his policies. History will judge their success or failure.

This is about his blanket denigration of people you know, his relentless dehumanization of reporters who care deeply about this region, who work hard, who come from families and raise families right here in Luzerne County, next to your family.

We respect your decision to stay steadfast with President Trump. We admire your willingness to stand up to him when he threatened federal funding for SHINE. We’re not asking you to defy his political positions, or even to question his attacks on specific news stories.

But please, it’s time to stand up to his hate speech against “the media,” to denounce his sweeping attacks on the institution of a free press. Please publicly rebuke him when he fires brutal broadsides against a cornerstone of our republic, a component of democracy so important by the founding fathers that they deemed it essential to put it into the Constitution.

Please stand up for the people you know.