The media’s 3 unforgivable sins of the Trump era
Failing the challenge
This newsletter is only possible because of the support of readers like you who are backing a new kind of independent journalism. If you’re enjoying PRESS RUN, please consider subscribing for $6 a month. Thanks!
Trump's election four years ago presented the American media with a unique challenge in terms of covering the most radical player in U.S. presidential history. Unfortunately, the press has consistently failed in key areas because they created self-imposed restrictions on how to cover Trump's tenure.
Most media outlets won’t call him a liar, they won’t demand he resign, and they won’t stop airing his every utterance live and in its entirety, along with each White House briefing from his press secretary. The miscarriages represent sweeping failures of the Beltway press, the scale of which we haven’t seen in modern times.
All three are indefensible — there’s no logical reason why the press won’t call a pathological liar like Trump a liar. There’s no defense for the press inventing entirely new rules for plastering the airwaves with every stray remark Trump spits out. And it’s inconceivable that the dozens of newspapers that demanded Bill Clinton resign from office because he was unfit to serve during the impeachment scandal in 1998, today watch Trump attack our democratic institutions and think he’s serving in the nation’s best interest.
History will judge why the most powerful news organizations in America, supposedly committed to speaking truth to power, made the collective decision to not tell the truth about Trump. Instead, they burned through thesauruses to avoid necessary truth telling.
Several news outlets have entire fact-check teams dedicated to documenting Trump’s lies (his “falsehoods”), but newsrooms are mostly ordered not to call Trump a liar. At first, the thin excuse from editors for banning “liar” was because nobody knew if Trump was telling untruths intentionally. (Maybe he’s just misinformed!) But there are some lies Trump has told more than 150 times in public, which demolishes the hollow newsroom defense.
From The New York Times’ Fact Check team, which like so many, has played a sad semantics game for years:
— "Trump Misrepresents"
— "Trump Falsely Claims"
— "Trump’s Baseless Claim”
— "Trump’s Falsehoods"
— "Trump’s False Claims"
— “Trump’s Inaccurate Claims"
The press doesn’t call Trump a liar because they’re afraid to — they’re afraid of a tidal wave of GOP attacks and cries of “liberal media bias.” So the press hides behind the “falsehood” shield and makes a deliberate decision to be inaccurate. That’s not journalism. That’s some kind of hybrid where news organizations create a safe place where they can claim they’re holding Trump accountable without being honest in the process.
Obsessive, 24/7 coverage
In 2014 when President Barack Obama wanted to address the nation in primetime, the White House asked the television networks for 10 minutes of airtime — they all said no. What a difference having a Republican president makes, as television news has turned over thousands of hours to unfiltered Trump content. Most of it in 2020 consists of Trump lying nonstop about a public health crisis.
For four years, major news organizations have been unwilling to say no to any staged Trump event, even though many journalists have conceded the Trump media events aren't newsworthy, including Trump's never-ending pandemic briefings. "Over time, the news conferences have become increasingly devoid of actual news," ABC News noted.
Everyone in the news business knows Trump is going to lie, because he has lied relentlessly about the pandemic all year. “No country has ever done what we’ve done in terms of testing. We are the envy of the world,” he lied, adding "The Democrats are purposely keeping their schools closed, keeping their states closed." These are the kind of mindless utterances that punctuate his briefings. What's the point of airing them live and in full to a national audience? There's absolutely no news value attached to this reckless exercise.
The solution today isn't difficult — let C-Span air the briefings from beginning to end. There's no reason to give Trump an unobstructed platform to lie about a pandemic. Instead, the media's unhealthy addiction endures. Married to the idea that every fragmented Trump thought constitutes breaking news, television outlets have committed themselves to carrying the freak show live, uninterrupted for four years.
Calls for resignation
It's true that clarion calls for resignation certainly would not force Trump from office. They would however, change the national debate and more accurately reflect the crisis our country faces with a pathological liar at the helm. And quite simply, the calls would be the right thing to do.
Newspapers, especially the ones who deemed Clinton unfit for office, should have demanded Trump’s resignation when he:
• Openly colluded with a foreign government to try to dig up dirt on his political opponent
• Urged that a Democratic member of Congress be arrested for treason.
• Called fallen U.S. soldiers “suckers.”
• Actively gutted the national intelligence apparatus.
• Threatened to doom a federal election by thwarting the U.S. Post Office’s ability to count mail-in ballots.
• Said he wasn’t going to help California recover from apocalyptic wildfires.
• Refused to condemn Russia intelligence operatives who placed bounties on US soldiers.
• Admitted he downplayed the deadly coronavirus while hundreds of thousands of Americans died.
• Offered public support for right-wing cult movement, QAnon.
• Threatened military action against anyone who protested a possible Trump victory in November.
Faced with an historic Trump challenge, the press has failed.
The Atlantic's James Fallows just published an excellent overview of the media's shortcomings over the last four years, "The Media Learned Nothing From 2016":
Many of our most influential editors and reporters are acting as if the rules that prevailed under previous American presidents are still in effect. But this president is different; the rules are different; and if it doesn’t adapt, fast, the press will stand as yet another institution that failed in a moment of crucial pressure.
FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Jany Green, "Little"
Let's hang onto the summer vibe as long as we can as the calendar marches towards autumn next week. With a touch of Motown, mixed with half-rapped vocals, Green's breezy "Little" served as a perfect musical postcard from the beach this season.
3a. Adopting the term "doubled-down" whenever Trump embellished his prior lies.
The press had no problem calling Al Gore a liar, when it was just a misunderstanding, and they derailed his campaign over it. So any excuses they use to avoid calling Trump a liar are just that. Excuses. They don’t call Trump a liar because they just don’t want to. It has always been a conservative media bias.