So that the truth isn’t a fact, the truth becomes the doubt itself.
And we don’t mean to get cute here, but no doubt that doubt is then true.
Take for example his Tweeted accusation that the Michigan Secretary of State “illegally” sent out absentee ballots to voters there. And his accompanying threat to “hold up funding” to that state.
Jocelyn Benson, the Secretary of State in question Tweeted back:
That’s a complete enough rebuke. (And it actually led to a revision of his original Tweet and a partial correction from Trump–but not the juiciest parts.) No need for a million reporters to go through the gymnastics of a comprehensive history lesson on Trump’s contention that he actually won the popular vote in 2016 because ridiculous accusations of widespread voter fraud in California, etc. Because then they’re just extending the life of that story. And also chiseling this new one into Trump’s compendium of doubt, which is exactly what he wants.
If they’re doing it as a warning of what might come up as the Presidential election rolls around (and after), fair enough. But also, don’t we already kind of know the President’s going to pull that kind of stunt to some degree?
So the story is more how effective can he be at doing that, which we don’t really know now. And reporting about “if” and “might” doesn’t really illuminate anything. Especially if at this point it only helps the President sink his deception just a little deeper.
Fact checking: it has to be done, but it also makes the doubt spread further. (So in a sense, makes it “truer”.) Of course, the alternative is worse: not saying anything when you know what the President just said is completely untrue.
And this has always been a dilemma when covering this President. Since a lot of ink gets spent on debunking, pure and simple.
At the same time, there’s no incentive for the media not to do that, or focus on other things at least a little more, because:
- It does need to be done, even if it is kind of a trap.
- It gets a lot more attention/reaction and yes, numbers/dollars than stories that might take a lot more effort and might not attract as much of an audience.
Because audiences are so fired up for a political fight right now no matter what their viewpoint. Lockdown fatigue seems to be making political fury even stronger.
Still, there are levels here that might make a difference. For instance, Trump is accusing President Obama recently with a heinous crime: “You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody”. The evidence his henchmen release proves it to be as about untrue as possible. In fact, the once top secret transcript we’ve been treated to so far shows Obama made a point of proceeding by the book. In fact, Obama literally says a bunch of times in the very email Trump chose to release, that everybody needs to proceed “by the book”.
So yeah, that’s gotta be pointed out. But as soon as you start contextualizing your coverage of that by attaching a Trump-promoted “-gate” to it, then it becomes that.
And facts are suppressed yet again even in the process of proving them, and doubt wins out. Even in many stories we’ve seen that mean to accomplish the opposite.
So here’s our proposal: let Trump say the nicknames, but let’s not repeat them. Let Trump label his made-up scandals, and let’s show why they’re totally made-up without perpetuating his labels.
Even if you think it’s really outlandish and outrageous that he thinks he can get away with it. Even if his names for people and things are memorable because they’re cruel or funny. Especially if they are. Because all that’s happening then is you’re engraving his words and labels and insults and put-downs in stone.
And anyway, everyone knows the President is outlandish and outrageous. And they either hate him for it, or love him for it. That ain’t changing.
Say what it is that’s wrong with what the President’s saying or doing. Not how he’s saying it or whether he’s doing a good job of selling it. Those last two things don’t really matter. They aren’t really real, or don’t have to be. They are what often stick though, and Trump knows it. And the President knows he’s going to get the assist from media to make it so.
Which is why the President says all that extraneous nonsense in the first place. Because he knows he can make it real by putting it out there on a breath of his air and it’ll get carried along. Otherwise, it’d have no where to go.
“Wait!”, you may say, “he’s the President! Everything he says is important/worth covering just by virtue of that fact.”
Some people would say no to that. We want to make crystal clear that we’re not. We were never against carrying the President’s rally-like Coronavirus briefings. He is the President, after all.
Just let a lot more of the drivel that comes out of his mouth just fall to the ground. Especially the gross mischaracterizations and aspersions. Correct the lies. Don’t keep repeating the rest. It can be done.
Nah, it won’t be easy. Especially with so many surrogates still confoundingly, instantly willing to line up behind the President and parrot his ludicrous pronouncements and Tweets. But it’s also more possible than what pours out every single time we open a news feed these days.
Might not get you the best ratings or readership, but it’s time…