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Mary Cahoon plays the tambourine in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in the rain March 2017 in Twin Falls.

'Fake news' smear takes hold among politicians

An Idaho state lawmaker urges her constituents to submit entries for her “fake news awards.” The Kentucky governor tweets #FAKENEWS to dismiss questions about his purchase of a home from a supporter. An aide to the Texas land commissioner uses the phrase to downplay the significance of his boss receiving donations from employees of a company that landed a multimillion-dollar contract.

President Donald Trump’s campaign to discredit the news media has spread to officials at all levels of government, who are echoing his use of the term “fake news” as a weapon against unflattering stories.

It’s become ubiquitous as a signal to a politician’s supporters to ignore legitimate reporting and hard questions, as a smear of the beleaguered and dwindling local press corps, and as a way for conservatives to push back against what they call biased stories.

“When Trump announced he was going to do his fake news awards, a group of us conservative legislators said, ‘We need to do that, too,’” said Idaho state Rep. Priscilla Giddings, who has urged supporters to send examples of “biased, misleading and fake news” and plans to announce her awards March 18. “We need people to wake up to the fact that just because it’s on the front page of the Boise newspaper doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent true.”

The winners of the contest, it turns out, will be announced at the end of Sunshine Week, an annual focus by the nation’s news media on government transparency and the importance of a free press.

Rhonda Prast, editor of the Idaho Statesman in Boise, said it was ridiculous for anyone to assert that it would publish a story it knew contained falsehoods.

“The Statesman has a longstanding reputation as a reliable paper of record — going back 154 years — and our standards for accuracy and fairness have never changed,” she said in a statement. “The allegations of ‘fake news’ are unjust attacks on a free press.”

Giddings used the term herself last year to dismiss a report from another newspaper suggesting she may have been unqualified to run for office because she was claiming a homeowner’s exemption outside of her district. She said she’s submitting paperwork to prove the break was legitimate.

Experts on the press and democracy say the cries of “fake news” could do long-term damage by sowing confusion and contempt for journalists and by undermining the media’s role as a watchdog on government and politicians. They say it’s already exacerbated the lack of trust in media by conservatives and contributed to hostility that sometimes turns violent.

In the last year, at least three political figures have been implicated in physical assaults on reporters asking questions, while journalists have been attacked in dozens of other incidents by protesters, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

“I worry about the ongoing attack on the legitimacy of the media by President Trump and some of his supporters. The press is hardly perfect, of course, but it is also an important mechanism of accountability for people in power,” said Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College. “This kind of rhetoric is potentially corrosive to trust in the media and to people’s willingness to accept information that is critical of politicians they support.”

Nyhan was among the authors of a recent study for the Poynter Institute that found partisan divisions in the public’s attitudes toward the press. More Democrats now have more faith in the press, while Republicans have far more negative views and are “more likely to endorse extreme claims about media fabrication, to describe journalists as an enemy of the people, and to support restrictions on press freedom,” the study found.

The routine labeling of factual reporting as “fake news” comes as actual fake news proliferates on the internet.

Media researcher Craig Silverman helped popularize the term in 2014 as a label for completely fabricated stories written and spread by individuals seeking profit. Now the news media editor at BuzzFeed, he wrote recently that he cringes when he hears anyone use the term, which he said became a partisan weapon after Trump’s election in 2016.

Silverman wrote that political figures are manipulating social media to “literally brand real things as fake” and manufacture reality for their followers.

Politicians who have used the term in recent months in response to news reporting include the governor of Maine, a New Mexico congressional candidate, the Georgia secretary of state and the vice chairman of Trump’s now-disbanded voter fraud commission. A California school board president repeatedly used the term to attack a journalist investigating the area’s high rate of teenage pregnancy and its sex education policies.

The cries of “fake news” create a quandary for reporters, who want to defend their stories while also not giving credence to the charge.

“Our members, many of whom work for small news outlets, are bearing the brunt of these unwarranted attacks, and it’s completely unfair. These are people who are serving the community,” said Rebecca Baker, president of the Society of Professional Journalists. “Some are just ignoring it, and some are fighting back.”

Baker suggests that journalists respond to the attacks by showing their work as much as possible — by sharing the audio, video and documents that back up their stories. She wonders whether the term is starting to lose its clout from overuse, but also worries that whichever party controls the White House, Congress and state governments in the future will continue to use the tactic.

“This is part and parcel of the polarization of our politics right now,” she said.

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: The Classic Movie Club will show a science-fiction classic at 6:30 p.m. at the Twin Falls Public Library, 201 Fourth Ave E. A discussion will follow. Free admission.

5 ways to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in south-central Idaho

TWIN FALLS — Beverly O’Connor has five rules for St. Patrick’s Day.

1. You must drink Guinness.

2. Eat corned beef and cabbage.

3. Wear green.

4. Kiss me, I’m Irish.

5. Get a sober ride home.

Here are 5 more ways to celebrate on Saturday:

St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade at noon in downtown Twin Falls. The parade will feature green trucks, Harley Davidson and lots of green people O’Connor, the owner of O’Dunken’s, said.

The family-friendly parade starts on Main Street near Murtaugh Street East and ends at Castleford Street West.

A party will follow the parade at O’Dunken’s. Corned beef and cabbage will be served until it’s gone, along with green beer and brats.

“Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” O’Connor said.

Comedy night

Canyon Crest Dining & Event Center will host its “Saint Nick’s Comedy Night” for a third year. The comedy show is performed by DJ host Dr. Nick Redbone. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the show starts at 9 p.m. Advanced tickets are $10, day of show tickets are $15. The show is 21 and up.

Beer, food and music

Guppies Hot Rod Grille will have food specials throughout the day and local band The Blue Jays will play from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Jakers Bar and Grill will have its Saint Patty’s Day Buffet with corned beef, Shepherds Pie and corn bread galore. Adults are $21.95 and a children’s meal is $8.95.

Von Scheidt will be having beer tastings and Coop’s Southern Barbecue serving corned beef and cabbage along with its regular menu. This weekend will be Coop’s Southern Barbecue last before closing its restaurant at Von Scheidt.

Late-night party

When everywhere else has closed you can head over to Bumpin Bernie’s. A sidewalk party will go from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. It’ll feature a giveaway and live music.

Fun run and walk

Earn your celebratory beers at the 28th annual fun run and walk at Malad Gorge State Park near Hagerman. The festivities starts at 8:30 a.m. with a bonfire.

Register at

Registration includes commemorative long-sleeved t-shirt, participation memento, a celebratory lunch and drinks. Early registration is over but late and same day registration is $40 per runner or $35 per runner in a team of four or more for the 5½ mile run and $35 per entry or $30 for a team of four or more for the 3½ mile run or walk. Awards will be presented to the top three overall finishers and the top three finishers in each age group for each event.

A post-race lunch will include Clear Springs trout that’s free for race participants and $5 per plate for non-race participants.

How much are your sanitation rates going up? Twin Falls City Council considers resolution Monday.

TWIN FALLS — After residents last week voiced their support for the city’s recycling program, Twin Falls staff put together a resolution for an increase to sanitation rates.

The city and PSI Environmental Systems have agreed to share the cost to send recycling to a sorting facility, but only when the cost is $100 per ton or less. As recycling costs have gone up in the past year — to $136 per ton in February — residents will pay more for that service. However, when the cost exceeds $100 per ton, materials will be sent to the regional landfill, instead, at $37.50 per ton.

The new rates will come before the Twin Falls City Council at its regular meeting at 5 p.m. Monday. The rate increase varies depending on which service you have through PSI, the city’s contractor. If approved, the new rates will go into effect April 1.

As proposed, residents who have full-service garbage and recycling will have rates increase 53 cents per month. Those with 65-gallon carts will see rates increase 37 cents. Customers with 35-gallon carts will see an increase of about 20 cents per month.

Also at the meeting, the City Council will hear a presentation about the more significant changes in the latest update to the city’s 2030 strategic plan. The plan is a document that significantly impacts all the city’s future budgetary and policy decisions.

“This really does help serve as the guidepost for our organization moving forward,” City Manager Travis Rothweiler said.

The strategic plan was created in 2012, but needed updating due to the changes the city has had over the past six years.

“The place of our economy was in a very different spot than it is today,” Rothweiler said.

One of the major changes includes an overall economic development strategy that addresses workforce attraction and housing needs. Bicycle and pedestrian connectivity will also play a larger part in the plan than in 2012.

“It was the single largest thing that was discussed by the more than 200 people that we interviewed,” Rothweiler said.

Other bigger focuses include an effort toward a recreation center and a plan to maximize the library’s capabilities as a learning center.

The city gathered the public’s input through a citizen survey, open houses and individual interviews.

The City Council will decide on Monday whether it will adopt the new plan. If it does, beginning in January 2019 the Council will begin to receive annual updates on the plan. The city will be able to make course corrections as warranted, Rothweiler said.

The Council meets in Council Chambers at 203 Main Ave. E. Also at the meeting, the Council will:

  • Hear a proclamation declaring March 11-17 as Girl Scout Week in the city of Twin Falls.
  • Hear a proclamation declaring March 11-17 as Ground Water Awareness Week in the city of Twin Falls.
  • Hear a proclamation declaring March 2018 as March for Meals Month.
  • Have a public hearing and consider a request for a zoning change and map amendment for 12.46 acres at the northeast corner of Addison Avenue East and Carriage Lane North. The changes would allow for a multi-family residential and commercial development.

Trump backs off call for raising minimum age to buy gun

WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday pledged to help states pay for firearms training for teachers and reiterated its call to improve the background check system as part of a new plan to prevent school shootings.

But in a move sure to please the gun lobby, the plan does not include a push to increase the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons to 21, which President Donald Trump had repeatedly championed.

Instead, a new federal commission on school safety will examine the age issue, as well as a long list of others topics, as part of a longer-term look at school safety and violence.

The plan forgoes an endorsement of comprehensive background checks for gun purchases, which the president, at times, seemed to embrace.

In a call with reporters Sunday evening, administration officials described the plan as a fulfillment of Trump’s call for action in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month that left 17 dead.

“Today we are announcing meaningful actions, steps that can be taken right away to help protect students,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who will chair the commission.

DeVos said that “far too often, the focus” after such tragedies “has been only on the most contentious fights, the things that have divided people and sent them into their entrenched corners.” She described the plan as “pragmatic.”

The plan was immediately panned by gun control advocates, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “Americans expecting real leadership to prevent gun violence will be disappointed and troubled by President Trump’s dangerous retreat from his promise,” said Avery Gardiner, the group’s co-president.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., called the plan “weak on security and an insult to the victims of gun violence.” In a statement, he added, “When it comes to keeping our families safe, it’s clear that President Trump and Congressional Republicans are all talk and no action.”

The plan is less ambitious than the changes Trump advocated in a series of listening sessions in the weeks after the massacre. In televised meetings with lawmakers, survivors of recent school shootings and the families of victims, Trump made a strong case for arming teachers, but also increasing the age for purchasing long guns.

“I mean, so they buy a revolver — a handgun — they buy at the age of 21. And yet, these other weapons that we talk about ... they’re allowed to buy them at 18. So how does that make sense?” he told school officials last month. “We’re going to work on getting the age up to 21 instead of 18.”

White House spokesman Raj Shah had said earlier Sunday in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” that “the president has been clear that he does support raising the age to 21” and that that would be a “component” of the announcement.

But Trump has also spoken repeatedly in recent weeks with the heads of the powerful National Rifle Association, which considers increasing the age of purchase to be an assault on the Second Amendment. The NRA on Friday sued Florida over a new gun law signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott that bans the purchase of firearms by anyone under the age of 21.

Instead, the issue will be one of a list of topics to be studied by the DeVos commission, which will then provide recommendations to the president. Administration officials said they had not set a deadline for the commission’s recommendations, but expected they’d made in under a year.

Trump’s embrace of another commission appears at odds with comments he made Saturday night mocking their use, at least when it comes to fighting drug addiction.

During the meetings, Trump also advocated arming certain teachers and school staffers, arguing that gun-free schools are “like an invitation for these very sick people” to commit murder.

“If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could end the attack very quickly,” he has said.

As part of the plan, the White House has directed the Justice Department to help states partner with local law enforcement to provide “rigorous firearms training to specifically qualified volunteer school personnel,” said Andrew Bremberg, director of the president’s Domestic Policy Council. The White House did not immediately say how much money would be made available.

Trump also called on states to pass temporary, court-issued Risk Protection Orders, which allow law enforcement to confiscate guns from individuals who pose risks to themselves and others, and temporarily prevent them from buying firearms. And he called for the reform and expansion of mental health programs, as well as a full audit and review of the FBI tip line. The bureau has been criticized for not following up on warnings about the suspect in the Parkland school shooting.

During the often free-wheeling conversations, Trump also seemed to voice support for “universal” background checks, which would apply to private gun sales and those at gun shows, instead of just from licensed dealers. He also raised eyebrows by suggesting that law enforcement officials should be able to confiscate guns from those they deem a safety risk even before a court has weighed in.

“Take the guns first, go through due process second,” Trump said.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, later walked back both suggestions, saying “Universal means something different to a lot of people.” She said the president wanted to expedite the court process, not circumvent it.

Instead, the White House reiterated its support for improvements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check through the “Fix NICS” bill, which would penalize federal agencies that don’t properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences.

The White House called on Congress to pass a second bill that would create a federal grant program to train students, teachers and school officials how to identify signs of potential violence and intervene early. The Republican-controlled House is expected to vote on the STOP School Violence Act next week.

Kimberlee Kruesi