To watch Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger in an interview or on the senate floor, you would think he’s a thoughtful, measured, and serious man. He’s generally considered one of the three most powerful people in the state. To read his social media accounts, though, you could be forgiven if you thought he was a college Republican troll.
The News & Observer and Facebook have called out Berger for altering headlines and photos posted as news articles on his Facebook page. That’s in clear violation of Facebook rules and blatantly misleading his followers. Talk about fake news.
Most of the headlines are devoted to attacking Roy Cooper. It’s a familiar theme. Berger spends an inordinate amount of his time on twitter criticizing Cooper. He’s becoming North Carolina’s version of Donald Trump.
The national media jumped on the story. AP South tweeted: “This tweet has not been altered: Staff of NC @SenatorBerger rewrites headlines about Gov. @RoyCooperNC on Facebook.” Berger should be furious with his staff. Instead, Berger’s crew is pushing back.
Like Trump, Berger’s staff, presumably with his blessing, is attacking the press and Facebook. Republicans have had a rocky relationship with the media in North Carolina almost since they took power. This time, though, Berger and crew are misleading the public about what publications say in clear violation of a company’s policy. Somebody should be apologizing, not attacking.
Can you imagine the outrage if the News & Observer made up quotes and attributed them to Berger? That’s essentially what Berger has done on his Facebook page. That’s more than fake news. That’s lying.
The GOP has been feuding with the press for years. But it’s not always been that way. They cheered on investigations that hurt Democrats from Meg Scott Phipps to Mike Easley. They touted the N&O’s investigation of the Rural Center and used it as justification for cutting funding and support. I remember when liberals were dropping their subscriptions because the paper had become too conservative for their taste.
The current episode highlights disturbing trends in politics. Tribalism has replaced ideology and objectivity. Berger’s supporters are rallying to his defense while acknowledging that they both changed the headlines and violated Facebook policy. They’ll stick with Berger because he’s on their team, not because he’s right.
One of the most powerful people in the state is attacking the press, not for what they’ve done or said but for asking to be quoted correctly. That has authoritarian overtones. Berger and company want to create their own version of reality by demonizing the media. They’re pushing propaganda, not truth.
Finally, Berger is demeaning the office of the President Pro-tem. He should be above the pettiness of both his tweets and Facebook page. His social media should reflect his personality and demeanor. They do neither. Instead, they leave us wondering, which Phil Berger is the real one: The measured good natured man in the TV interviews, or the petty, vindictive one on social media?