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Vince Bzdek: Fraternize with the enemy. Please.

By: Vince Bzdek, The Gazette
February 25, 2017 Updated: February 26, 2017 at 8:19 am
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photo - Gazette editor Vince Bzdek March 14, 2016. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Gazette editor Vince Bzdek March 14, 2016. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

An enemy of the people came into my office the other day to pitch a story about the first American airman to return to duty after being deemed 100 percent disabled. A dozen years after he was nearly killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro wanted to complete the final stage of his unprecedented comeback, jumping out of an airplane. The enemy reporter, Tom Roeder, wanted to be there with him. It was our best read story last week.

I recently asked another enemy of the people, the sweet-talking but steely-spined education writer Debbie Kelley, to write a tribute to Pam Shockley-Zalabak upon her retirement from UCCS after transforming that school. Pam's story was really Colorado Springs' story over the last 15 years, and Debbie and I felt we had a duty to tell that story in full, even if such a story didn't quite fulfill our role as enemy of the American people.

Another enemy reporter, Kevin Vaughan, and enemy editor Jim Trotter just put together a fascinating whodunit about a shooting 16 years ago. Together, they may have just proved that the 6-year-old boy who thought all along he'd killed his mom didn't, perhaps allowing the son to live out his remaining years in a bit more peace. It was the kind of investigative journalism that most journalists like Kevin live for. They are journalists who have a passion to right wrongs, which often make them enemies of those who do wrongs.

I went and visited a couple other enemies last week in the heart of enemy territory, Washington, D.C.

I asked enemy columnist Dan Balz, a former colleague at The Washington Post, what it was like to be called an enemy of the American people by the president of the United States.

"It gives his loyalist supporters a reason to understand why things he said would happen aren't happening. It's not his fault, it's somebody else's fault," said Balz.

"It's a challenge in a lot of ways, but this place is just doing what it always does."

He mentioned Washington Post editor Marty Baron's response to the accusation: "We're not at war with the administration, we're at work. We're doing our jobs."

 

At the Code Media conference in Dana Point, Calif., Baron said members of the press are too competitive with each other to form a united opposition party, another thing Trump accused the media of being. "We're not the opposition either. We're independent. And I think we've reached a strange point, where just being independent - which the press should be - is portrayed as being opposition."

A new poll from Quinnipiac University suggests that people may not be quite buying the line that the media is the enemy.

The poll asked who registered voters "trust more to tell you the truth about important issues." A majority - 52 percent - picked the media. Just 37 percent picked Trump.

The poll did find that registered voters don't think the media has treated Trump fairly, with 50 percent saying they disapproved of the coverage of Trump and 45 percent approving. But voters were even more critical of Trump's treatment of the media, with 61 percent disapproving and 35 percent approving, according to another former colleague, Aaron Blake.

The problem is, calling someone the enemy dehumanizes them, widening the gap that keeps Washington from getting much of anything done. When Democrats call Republicans the enemy, it does the same thing, eroding the vital trust required to find common ground. We can disagree loudly and passionately without being enemies. That thirst to dehumanize, more than anything, may be what sets Washington apart from places like Colorado Springs.

At least that is my hope.

In his recent book "Thank you for Being Late," another enemy columnist, Thomas Friedman, says he tells foreign visitors that if you want to be an optimist about America, "stand on your head," because our country looks so much better from the bottom up than from the top down.

"What has been saving us at a time when our national politics is increasingly toxic and unable to produce social technologies we need to keep pace," Friedman writes, "is the dynamism coming from our cities, town and communities, from the bottom up."

What's the biggest difference between Colorado Springs and Washington? I think it's trust.

When people feel embedded in a community, they feel "protected, respected and connected" a friend told Friedman.

"When people trust each other, they take ownership of problems and practice stewardship," Friedman writes. "When there is trust in the room, people are more inclined to collaborate and experiment, to open themselves up to others, to new ideas, and to novel approaches ... they feel free to fail and try again."

When trust is prevalent, groups and societies can move and adapt quickly through many informal contracts to improve their communities and get things done.

You want to make America work? Ignore Washington and love your enemies.

Especially your media ones.

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