BOISE — Wayne Hoffman has been revving up his cynical campaign of lies, insults and mockery aimed at undermining the credibility of Idaho’s hard-working news reporters.
Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and a former newspaper reporter himself, is among a group of “conflict entrepreneurs,” so dubbed by University of Idaho President Scott Green in testimony to the state Legislature in January, who has employed similar tactics in trying to undermine trust in various other long-trusted Idaho institutions, including public schools, colleges and universities, elected officials from both parties, health care providers, city councils and more, all to advance his own shadowy political agenda.
He refuses to disclose who funds his organization and its affiliates, which have been becoming increasingly active in Idaho political campaigns.
I worked with Hoffman at the Idaho Statesman back when. I served with him on the Idaho Press Club board. What he’s doing now is so repugnant that it cries out for robust denunciation.
When Hoffman stepped up his campaign of trolling Idaho reporters on social media this year, I responded to him and asked him what had so changed in his view of the free press and its work in Idaho. He responded that it was me who had changed, and that I’ve somehow become something different, not a reporter. I haven’t. My work as a journalist in Idaho for nearly the past four decades speaks for itself, as does the work of Idaho journalists across the state, whether they work at newspapers, local TV or radio stations, or professional online news outlets that are independent of scheming political activists and that openly disclose their funders.
Last week, in an episode of his “Hoff Time Report” livestreamed video podcast entitled “How to Handle Media Malpractice,” Hoffman and his two guests bashed Idaho reporters in “the legacy news media” as socialists, leftists, “biased,” “very far to the left,” and more, continuing a barrage of claims Hoffman has been lobbing at Idaho’s free press for months. He’s also been pushing for “conservative” politicians to refuse to talk to actual news reporters – in the process, hiding their views and statements from their own constituents.
In the show’s opening, Hoffman described himself as “one of Idaho’s most respected, influential public policy voices.” His two chosen guests on the show were Greg Pruett, head of the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance, a gun-rights activist who is well to the right of the National Rifle Association who has been pushing his own version of news on his “Idaho Dispatch” website; and Bryan Hyde, a former radio reporter who runs the new “Nowhere to Hyde” podcast for the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
Hyde’s program, just launched last month, opens with a montage of strung-together video clips of Idaho reporters, including me, and ridicules and mocks them.
Pruett opined, “Years and years ago I think the media here in Idaho was a lot different than it is now. … I don’t know if it was Trump maybe that really caused a left turn in the legacy media in Idaho, but it’s really different.”
Hyde chimed in, “Idaho media definitely has taken a pretty hard turn to the left in terms of the legacy media.”
That’s not true. I’ve been here all along, and I know this from first-hand experience. I still do what I’ve always done: Seek the truth and report it. But I decided to check in with one of Idaho’s longest-serving former journalists to see what he thought about whether Idaho’s news media has changed its approach.
Bob Fick headed the Associated Press bureau in Idaho for 22 years, from Election Day in 1983 to the end of 2004. He is the classic old-school journalist, doesn’t pull his punches, and has deep knowledge of both Idaho and journalism.
“The only change has been that there’s not enough reporters any more to keep track of all these (expletives). That’s the real problem,” Fick said.
Internet propagandists now spread their own slant on “news,” as technology continues to undermine the advertising-based funding model that long has supported the free press in the United States, Fick noted. That leaves news outlets with less money to spend on reporters. Journalism never has been a high-paying profession. Now there are fewer of us trying to do the same work.
“That’s the only difference today from yesterday,” Fick told me, “is that there’s not enough reporters to keep track of the miscreants that try to influence public opinion with no facts and no truth.”
Fick added, “I think you are doing a pretty good job. I appreciate that.”
Hoffman’s continued agitation against real journalists is encouraging his followers to engage in actual harassment against the hard-working reporters who work to bring you the news every day. It needs to stop.
In a free country like ours, people can say what they want, even if it’s not true. I recently asked my favorite lawyer, my mom, whether there might be grounds for a defamation lawsuit against Hoffman for his odious campaign against journalists. No, she replied. The same First Amendment that protects our free press in America protects hate speech, until it crosses the line into inciting violence.
In 1927, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote, “The remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
So, as a longtime Idaho reporter and as the president of the Idaho Press Club, I’m speaking now. And I hope you all will speak too. Support the free press. Subscribe to your local newspaper. If you own a business, support the newspaper by buying an ad. Watch or listen to your local newscasts. Support legitimate, real nonprofit news organizations like the Idaho Capital Sun and Idaho Education News, which are transparent about their funding sources and report news, rather than pushing political agendas.
Politicians, be transparent. Be open. Talk to the press, talk to your constituents, do what you do openly, not secretly. Transparency inspires confidence, while secrecy arouses suspicion and mistrust. And as Wayne has demonstrated for us with his dark-money shenanigans, sunshine is better.
I was a political science major way back when I was in college, and I can say that what Wayne calls “socialist” and “leftist” are nothing of the sort. Funding public education, for example, is the Idaho Constitution’s central requirement for the Idaho Legislature. Treating other people with respect regardless of whether they differ from you in characteristics including race, religion and sexual orientation is basic human decency. Seeking the truth and reporting it is journalism. And we are all the better for it.