If the latest polling data is any indicator the journalistic establishment is losing its running battle with President Donald Trump. According to an Emerson College poll released Feb. 7, Americans find the Trump administration to be more truthful than the news media. Poll numbers like that don’t bode well for an industry that lives and dies on its credibility.
The internals of the poll reveal that 49% of voters consider the Trump administration to be truthful while 48% say the opposite. Only 39% of the public says the news media are truthful while 53% says they aren’t. The results evinced a predictable party-line trend with Republicans vouching for President Trump’s honesty and Democrats defending the Fourth Estate.
And both sides are a bunch of bozos. Yeah, I said it. Both the media and the Trump administration are deliberately deceptive. Both offer competing narratives that cannot both be true though they are usually both false. It has become almost impossible to discern the faint outline of truth through the fog of lies — and that’s a serious problem.
Now I know that I’m really pissing off the guys in the MAGA hats by calling their man a liar. I can hear them now: “What do you mean Trump’s a liar?! Are you some kind of open borders, new world order, establishment Republican lickspittle?” No, I’m not. I’m actually a pretty doctrinaire conservative, to the right of President Trump on almost every issue — which isn’t surprising in light of the fact that he was a registered Democrat as late as 2008. I challenge anyone to read my catalog of articles on the many different sites I’ve contributed to over the years and tell me that my conservative credentials are lacking. It’s precisely because I’m a conservative that I place a high value on truth. That’s what used to separate us from the liberals. Does it still?
I don’t mean to imply that Trump and the media shovel equal quantities of bull crap. Clearly, the media produce more of it if only because Trump is one man and the media are a deception machine of epic proportions. Even if the entire administration’s lies were considered in aggregate, there’s just no way that Team Trump could possibly lie as much as the networks, the cable news outlets, the big websites, the major newspapers, and the weeklies combined.
Part of the reason Donald Trump is the president today, as remote as that possibility seemed just a few short months ago, is that he tapped into America’s justifiable anger with so-called journalists. He popped the bully media in the nose and plenty of Americans, including this American, cheered. He went on CNN and called them the “Clinton [News] Network” to their faces — which they clearly are. We later learned that eight CNN reporters had accepted invitations to what appears to be an official Hillary Clinton campaign media strategy session at the Manhattan home of a wealthy campaign donor. Jeff Zucker, president of the network, declined his invitation though he allowed his “journalists” to attend and he failed to blow the whistle on the unethical schmoozefeest as any responsible newsman would have.
For a particularly egregious example of the media’s lies look no further than their coverage of the Russian hacking allegations. While it’s pretty clear that the plutocrat ex-KGB man Vladimir Putin preferred Trump to Clinton, there is no concrete evidence that the Russians “hacked the election.” Hacking the election would have meant Russian agents getting inside voting machines, which would have required the introduction of malware via removable media. The Russians would have had to repeat this feat a few thousand times to have any noticeable effect on vote tallies. Such an operation would have been extremely risky and almost certainly would have left behind incriminating traces. There is zero evidence that this happened. In fact, there’s less evidence of Russia “hacking the election” than there is of Obama being born in Kenya — and admittedly there’s precious little of that.
A more plausible scenario is that the Russian government launched an influence operation not unlike the kind their Soviet predecessors wielded against Ronald Reagan during the 1984 election cycle (see the definitive English-language history of the KGB, “The Sword and the Shield,” p. 243) or the kind the Obama administration employed in an attempt to unseat Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015.
But it wasn’t enough for the media to chase down legitimate leads pointing toward a foreign government-orchestrated influence operation. They had to claim, over and over again, that the election was hacked. Not John Podesta’s email box, not the DNC, but the election itself. Journalists spoke recklessly and seemingly without regard to the actual meaning of words.
During a 30-day period ranging from Dec. 8, 2016 to Jan. 8, 2017, the big three networks made claims of a “hacked election” 49 times! They made these claims despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security specifically denied that Russian hacking had been aimed at vote tallying equipment. Is it any wonder that a majority of Democrats believe that their candidate was literally cheated of her rightful victory by the long arm of Moscow? They’re victims of Fake News™ — and from supposedly reputable news outlets.
But Trump engages in his own deception about his Russian connections — namely that he doesn’t have any. During the third debate, Trump actually claimed that he’d never met Russia’s president. “I don’t know Putin,” said Trump. “He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good. If Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS, that would be good.” In the next few minutes Trump repeated the words “I don’t know Putin,” and threw in an “I’ve never met Putin” for good measure.
Putin? Who’s that? Never heard of the man.
It’s not difficult to guess why Trump might lie about such a thing. When you’re running for president it’s best not to be perceived as anyone’s puppet, much less the puppet of an oily oligarch and former member of an intelligence service that worked tirelessly toward the goal of bringing down the United States. Clearly, having no relationship at all with Putin would preclude having a cozy relationship with him. How could a man Trump’s never met be pulling his strings?
But of course Trump knows Putin. He’s said so on many, many occasions. I’m not surprised. Rich, powerful men tend to know other rich, powerful men, even those on the other side of our tiny globe. There’s also a certain compatibility between the two; Trump is the American Putin, Putin is the Russian Trump.
The whole situation is rather unsettling. Before the earthquake election year of 2016, I usually felt as if I could make some sense of current events by reading the news with a discerning eye. Those days are over. No one’s telling me the truth and nothing adds up.
So both Trump and the media lie, but whose lies are worse? To put it another way, whose lies are more consequential to the long-term health of the nation? It’s not an easy question to answer and it reminds me of the task we Americans were asked to undertake in 2016 — that is, determining which of two candidates sucks less. This time the match-up isn’t Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton but rather Donald Trump against the sorry-ass journalists who form our supposedly free press.
With much reflection, I have decided that I blame the media more than Trump. The media have been absolutely awful for as long as I can remember. They abandoned their sacred charge of protecting us from crooked politicians a long time ago and they lack the credibility to start doing it now.
Part of the reason that Americans enshrined the ideal of a free press in our Constitution is because we always suspected that ambitious men would need some adult supervision. Ambitious men’s deceptions, though not excusable, are almost a given. But the journalists were always supposed to be the watchdogs, a role they completely abdicated in the Obama years if in fact they ever filled it in the first place. What are we supposed to do when the journalists lie as much or more than the politicians?
This isn’t the way our system is supposed to work. The press is supposed to get to the truth that the politicians don’t want uncovered, not match them lie for lie.
Is this really the new normal? I’m afraid it is. If anyone asks you who’s more honest, Trump or the media, the correct answer is “neither.”