I’m an English professor at the University of Southern Maine with a background in print and broadcast journalism. This spring, I taught a course called “ ‘Fake News’/Real Journalism.” One text we read is Lee McIntyre’s 2018 book “Post-Truth,” in which the author observes, “In the past we have faced serious challenges – even to the notion of truth itself – but never before have such challenges been so openly embraced as a strategy for the political subordination of reality.”

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated this challenge in ways that threaten our very lives.

On May 7, we learned from The Associated Press that the Trump administration quashed a document written by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that detailed “step-by-step advice to local authorities on how and when to reopen restaurants and other public places” during the crisis.

The 17-page CDC report, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Framework,” was written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen.

It was supposed to be published May 1, but a CDC official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that agency scientists had been informed that the guidance “would never see the light of day.”

On the same day, in Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts, claiming that it’s a matter of individual health care privacy, announced that local public health officials will no longer be allowed to report COVID-19 case data from meat processing plants. He issued the policy after local officials found that 359 positive cases were tied to two meatpacking plants in that state and that seven workers infected at a third plant had died. At a news conference May 1, Ricketts had proclaimed May as “Beef Month” in Nebraska.

Such instances of “the political subordination of reality” through deliberate silencing, coverups and lies of omission have reached lethal proportions. With the integrity of such other institutions as Congress and the judiciary being compromised by extremist leadership, and voting rights being routinely subverted at the state level, it now appears to be no exaggeration to conclude that the fate of our democracy rests on the continued vitality of the Fourth Estate, our free press.

While we can be thankful for the extraordinary work of journalists at this paper and across the country, a free press by itself is not sufficient to sustain a democracy.

Not when thousands of lives are at stake every day.

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