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Seeking Higher Ground: The New Deep Throat is a Park Ranger?

Sections: Opinion Published
By Nicolette Toussaint 

During the election, as “fake news” (i.e. propaganda) flew from both the left and the right, I had several conversations with other local journalists about where they get their news and made some personal adjustments and resolutions.
With local news, it’s easier to nail down. I know most of the Roaring Fork Valley’s reporters and editors personally. I can corner them between the potatoes and the artichokes in the grocery and ask, “Why in heck did you write that?”
I have spent most of my career writing about travel, the outdoors and other supposedly nonpolitical topics. I graduated from the CU Boulder School of Journalism with honors, then worked as a feature writer, a nonprofit publicist and an ad agency copywriter. (The latter involves being paid a princely sum to crow about something readers may or not want to buy.) 
But even as a copywriter, I drew the line at lying. I think Thomas Jefferson was right in asserting that a free press was (and is) essential to democracy. Writing to a delegate of the Continental Congress, Jefferson famously opined that if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government”, he would not hesitate to prefer the latter.
Sadly, much has changed since my J-school days, a time when Woodward and Bernstein were heralded as heroes. Last September, a Gallup poll found that only 32 percent of Americans say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the news media. Among Republicans, that number drops to 14 percent, down from 32 percent last year.
Still, I suspect that our new president will soon learn why Mark Twain quipped that it’s poor idea to pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel. 
In an open letter to Trump published in the Columbia Journalism Review, the voice of the journalistic profession, CJR editor Kyle Pope warned, “We believe there is an objective truth, and we will hold you to that…You and your staff sit in the White House, but the American government is a sprawling thing. We will fan reporters out across the government, embed them in your agencies, source up those bureaucrats.” As the White House’s webpage on climate change disappeared and the new administration barred the EPA from sharing information with the press and public, I began to wonder how many Deep Throats would appear in the coming months.
It took days, not months, to get an answer. Following White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s assertions about inaugural crowd, the press began digging and the National Park Service (NPS) tweeted out side-by-side photos of crowds at Trump’s and Obama’s inaugurations. That quickly led to the silencing of the Park Service’s official Twitter account. 
The NPS account came back some hours later, but dragon’s teeth had been sown. Badlands National Park quickly began tweeting about climate change — and soon found its Tweets deleted. 
But by the end of that day, more than 50 “alt” or “rogue” Twitter accounts appeared, speaking for  government agencies that deal with environment, science, health and food safety. They can be found under the hashtag #twistance (Twitter resistance).
I’m now following “Rogue NOAA”, an unofficial National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration account that promises “research on our climate, oceans, and marine resources should be subject to peer [not political] review.” NOAA operates 17 environmental satellites and myriad land- and ocean-monitoring instruments that collect data used for everything from farming to weather forecasting to insurance. 
Because I’m sure that the climate is warming, I’m also following “EPA Ungagged” for “news, links, tips, and conversation that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is unable to tell you.” And I’m wickedly cheering on the bad hombres at AltBadlandsNatPark, who tweeted that “the current pace of global average temp rise puts approximately 25 to 35 percent of plant and animal species at increased risk of extinction.”
I followed the Twitter resisters because like “Alt USDA”, I’m “resisting the censorship of facts and science.”  I too believe that “truth wins in the end.” 
But these days, the truth is an endangered species. It’s no coincidence that I get news about Standing Rock from the reports of former Sopris Sun editor Terray Sylvester. Or that I have donated to our local media news outlets. Or that I have subscribed to the New York Times. 
Or that I’m launching a new career as a columnist. 
You’re welcome to corner me by the artichokes and ask me all about it.

Nicolette Toussaint has written for the Sopris Sun since 2010. Her writing has also been published in the Denver Post, the San Francisco Examiner, Roaring Fork Lifestyle magazine and Newsweek.

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