Tim Steller, a widely-read columnist at the Arizona Daily Star, warned that too many people believe in false alternate realities, which is undermining legitimate journalism.  Tim spoke at the May 3, 2021, meeting of Democrats of Greater Tucson.

“People of all ages can’t distinguish between what’s on social media and what is a researched news story,” Tim Steller said.

“Not everything done in the media is journalism,” he warned. “The world is unrecognizable from even 10 years ago because of social media. A YouTuber who builds up to 100,000 followers has a bigger reach than I do.”

Decades of attacks by right-wing conspiracy theorists have  created hostility against news reporting, even calling the newspaper “the Red Star.”

“Trump worked really had to undermine the idea that what I say, or what any news organization he disagrees with, is ‘fake news,'” Steller said. “That’s fine, but don’t try to stop us from doing our job.”

“As a columnist, I do a lot of reporting and base my own opinion on that,” Steller said. In contrast, many writers just do wordsmithing or framing of issues.

Meanwhile, fact-free attacks spew from political leaders like Trump, his one-time lawyer Sidney Powell, and Lin Woods, and far-right conspiracy mouthpiece Lin Wood.

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“What they are saying is so whacked out,” Steller said, citing the “stop the steal” movement and anti-vaxxers as “people who create their own reality.” He cited several Arizona examples:

  • Michael Lewis Arthur Meyer, aka “Lewis Arthur” of Veterans on Patrol,  claimed that he found a child trafficking camp on a ranch by I-19 in Tucson. In a Facebook Live live stream in June 2018, he walked into the location, and “an audience of thousands of people tuned in and believed his claim,” Steller said. 

“It was utter garbage,” he said. “It was a hopeless camp and nothing indicated that children had even been there. “People of all ages can’t distinguish between what’s on social media and what is a researched news story.”

  • Right-wing agitators disrupted a Vail School District meeting on April 28. “The meeting was publicized on social media as a place to protest the mask mandate,” he said. Many people who didn’t even live in the district shut down the meeting and claimed that they were the newly-elected school board.  “That’s the degree that people believe in an alternate reality,” Steller said. 
  • Worst of all, the Arizona State Senate hired “Cyber Ninjas” to conduct a sham audit of 2.1 million ballots to make people disbelieve the outcome of the 2020 election. 

The people b behind the audit have no credibility whatsoever,” Steller said. “The audit is being conducted by people who know nothing about elections  They self-educated through the ‘stop the steal’ effort to become make-believe experts.”

“They will say something is wrong, or I’ll eat my hat,” Steller said. “A significant percentage of people in Arizona will believe anything they say.”

Meanwhile, reporters at the Star are persisting as the print newspaper makes a transition to be a digital-first publication.

“The crazy trend toward alternate realities has made people appreciate local news,” he said. “Stories about the local school board meeting that has some insight, or about local law enforcement that digs into the fact, makes people appreciate it in a way they didn’t before.”