By Mike Lednovich
At Tuesday night’s city commission meeting, Fernandina Beach Mayor Bradley Bean’s unvarnished criticism of local media outlets as “fake news” brings to the forefront a debate about the state of journalism and its role in our community.
Here’s what Bean said during his staunch support of raising his and other commissioners’ salaries by 50%. Bean spoke about the hurdles facing future potential city commission candidates.
“There’s another hurdle, there’s all this fake news now. There’s fake news out there, in our community, it’s here too.” Bean said. “There’s people who are watching this meeting right now. People who are thinking about running (for office) in the future are seeing they would have to deal with this, what they try to do is constantly, being attempted to be sideswiped by different fake news outlets.”
Bean’s tirade was not only grammatically incorrect but resulted in something far worse. By spewing unsupported insults at the Fernandina Observer, Fernandina News-Leader and The Citizens-Journal, Bean tarnished the office of mayor.
Later Bean doubled down on his claims with “I wish the fake news would stop fake newsing.”
When was the last time a Fernandina Beach mayor hurled insults from the center seat? And, should the mayor – a figurehead of goodwill for the city – engage in that type of conduct?
At the heart of Mayor Bean’s attacks is his frustration with the way his actions and decisions are reported in the media. Bean’s use of the label “fake news” has become a catch-all phrase, used by politicians to dismiss any news story that doesn’t align with their preferences.
Bean failed to provide any examples of “fake news” by local media. Perhaps that’s because local reporters – and I know them all — are committed to journalistic integrity and strive to present the facts accurately.
Bean’s voting to raise his salary on the commission by 50% is fact. Reporting that he voted for the raise is not fake news, it remains fact.
Journalists act as watchdogs, questioning decisions, investigating matters of public interest and ensuring that Fernandina Beach citizens are well-informed to make educated decisions. When Mayor Bean attacks the media as a whole, he undermines this important function and erodes public trust in credible journalism. Perhaps that is Bean’s intention.
But Mayor Bean’s attack of the news media as “fake news” should serve as a wake-up call for our entire community. Only through a collective commitment to the principles of accountability, accuracy and transparency will Fernandina Beach remain a place where open discourse and informed citizenry prevail.