One of the great appeals of awards programs is the opportunity they present for people to compare their personal judgments about outstanding work in a particular field against the views of experts and share their thoughts with their friends and family. It's a fun exercise, and although some awards can be taken very seriously, they are not necessarily consequential in the large scheme of things.
But this assessment doesn't apply to the "Fake News Awards" envisioned by President Donald Trump. Trump's announcement of the awards -- finally released Wednesday night after some delays -- is not meant for fun, beyond the level of enjoyment one gets from pure ridicule, is not intended to advance people's understanding of media reports, promises only to deepen and widen the nasty divisions in today's American politics and, above all, is anything but inconsequential. There may be a temptation to dismiss this "potential event" -- as spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee called it -- as more eye-rolling frivolity from a president whom one never knows when to take seriously. But don't be fooled.
The mere suggestion that a president would issue some sort of rating to belittle reports critical of him is in itself a glance down the road of tyranny, a further example of a dangerous assault on the free press that President Trump and many of his most ardent supporters have been mounting for years.
Not that there aren't news media that are more reliable than others. Not that even the most reliable outlets don't make serious, regrettable mistakes on occasion. Not that "bad actors" shouldn't be called out when they report recklessly and deliberately mislead. But when a president vows, as Trump did in a Nov. 27, 2017, tweet, to unilaterally deride one news agency for "its political coverage of your favorite President (me)," there can be little doubt that the head of government is applying the power of his position to undermine the role of a critical and free press.
Actually, if you truly want to measure the comparative reliability and political partisanship of particular media, you will not do much better than a chart you can find at the blog www.allgeneralizationsarefalse.com. In the chart you find there, a practicing patent attorney from Denver, Colorado, named Vanessa Otero thoughtfully and carefully identifies media from the most unreliably liberal to the most unreliably conservative and all versions of reliability and partisanship in between. Based on years of study and evaluation, she shows gradations that can provide true insights into how much credence you may want to give particular news outlets. Otero's analysis cannot be void of subjective influence and her personal bias. No such analysis can -- which is what makes the president's approach so troubling.
"When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn't suit him 'fake news,' it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press," Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake insisted from the Senate floor on Wednesday.
In interviews, Flake has been quick to note that conservatives like him have often felt at odds with traditional news media. But he -- along with former presidential candidate John McCain, other Republicans and Democrats who joined him in rebuking the president's attacks on the media -- recognizes that free societies require a diverse press independent of the government.
Contrived awards shows designed to drum up animosity and increase divisions won't create that kind of environment, do embolden dictators in less sophisticated countries around the world and take attention away from the real issues confronting the country.
Facts matter; support a free press.