The Press is Failing to Deal with Trump’s Falsehoods

Today I’m seeing a lot of tweets like the following:

Ryan Lizza ratchets up the rhetoric:

I agree with Lizza, but I think we’re past the point of simply calling out Trump for his lies–including using the word “lies” to do so. There was and probably still is debate among the press to use that word, but more and more journalists and news outlets seem more willing to use it now. In my opinion, we’re way past that issue. What should the press do instead? I’m not entirely sure, but here’s one thing that comes to mind. Instead of doing a one hour fact checking show, how about doing a one hour program showing that Trump has almost no credibility and says things in bad faith far too often? And then explain how this will impact coverage from here on out.

With regard to credibility and operating in good faith, Trump has already crossed a line (maybe more than one). The issue isn’t just that he lies, but that he does so in such a way that his credibility is approach zero. It’s almost to the point where you can’t take anything he says seriously. They type and frequency of his falsehoods is such that he’s not operating with the press in good faith. He no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt. We’re at the point where there’s little or no doubt that he’s operating in bad faith.

Using the word “lie” and counting his lies are trivial at this point. The problem is, what does the press do next? It seems like totally uncharted waters, and I can understand trepidation going the route I’m suggesting. I think a good way to deal with that trepidation is to make a long special report explaining the situation to the public. I think a really strong case can be made that Trump can’t be trusted and shouldn’t be treated as if he’s operating in good faith. (Why doesn’t a left-leaning outlet like MSNBC do something like this?) Part of this special report could included a decision-tree matrix for how the press determines whether a politician has lost credibility and/or the benefit of the doubt. I have a feeling the press doesn’t have such a matrix, so they’ll have to create one. (Ultimately, they should create a matrix that would help identify when a politician can be covered as an authoritarian.)
Ideally, the conservatives would be involved with this special report as well.

Here’s what continues to bother me about the situation. Imagine working with someone like Trump. At the beginning, you would probably give the person the benefit of the doubt. The first time they lie, if there’s an understandable reason, maybe you let it go. They may tell you a conspiracy theory they believe, and maybe you suspect they’re not entirely serious. But if those lies continue, and more evidence suggests they actually think in a conspiratorial fashion, their credibility would start to diminish. If they now tell lies to your face, you confront them about it, and they still maintain the lie, you’re moving into another realm. Now, you may start feeling hostile towards the person. If they start falsely accusing people in your workplace that hostility may grow, moving the situation into another realm. Each time the relationship enters a different phase, your perception and treatment of the person significantly changes as well, and that’s appropriate. That’s not happening with the press, and that bothers me.

Edit

OK, reporters calling out lies to the President’s face is something different:

I think this is a meaningful step.

Edit:

I thought this excerpt has parallels with coverage of Trump and Trump’s handling of the press:

3 thoughts on “The Press is Failing to Deal with Trump’s Falsehoods

  1. “You need to face something squarely: You’re confronted with radical hacking of your own systems of operation. This requires radical rethinking of those systems.”

    That’s a quote from a Medium piece by Dan Gillmor that I really liked. In it, Gillmor criticizes the presses’ approach to Trump. He makes a good point about the way that pointing out Trump’s lies and correcting them can do a disservice to the public:

    Researchers have shown conclusively that repeating the lie tends to reinforce it. There’s some evidence that challenging lies can help in some circumstances, but most of what you’re doing is amplifying lies.

    Gillmor also provides recommendations, including not putting people who lie on TV, including Trump. That seems impractical with regard to Trump, but suggestion seems doable:

    If you’re doing TV, mute the sound output. Do a voice-over saying what the truth is. For example: “The president is discussing the Department of Justice investigation into former FBI director Comey’s handling of the Clinton emails. There is no connection between the inspector general’s examination of how Comey handled the emails and the Mueller investigation.”

    In other words, do what misinformation experts suggest: Don’t repeat the lie. Say what’s true….

    …Then, after it’s over, link to the unedited version of Trump’s lies so that people who want to hear exactly what he said can do so.

    The suggestion seems reasonable, but if an outlet decides to do this, I still think they need to make some special effort to defend this decision, and prove the following:

    Politicians have always told some lies. This is different. The people running our government, and their key supporters, have launched a war on honest journalism, on facts, and on freedom of expression in general. They are using misinformation as strategy. They want the public to become so confused by what is true and what is false that people will give up even on the idea that journalism can help sort things out. This is not business as usual.

    This is a huge claim, and the press has to make an incredibly persuasive case that this is the truth. Really, is the claim objective, a fact? I don’t think so, and this where things can get dicey. Still, I think they can make a very strong case for this, and it’s important that they do.

    By the way, I think part of this should include a discussion of journalistic standards and the importance of facts, fact-base discourse, and the presses’ responsibility in this.

    1. I haven’t examined the dictator lithmus test above, but if it’s sound, this could also be included in the decision tree and special report.

  2. I actually don’t think the situation is that simple. What exactly is a lie? This isn’t always clear cut and often requires a subjective judgment. Additionally, most, if not all politicians, lie, and politicians regularly attempt to create positive perceptions of themselves and their party, while attempting to put the opposing party in the most negative light. Lies may not always be involved, but distortions and bad faith often can be. I believe what Trump does is much different from typical, not-so-honest behavior from politicians, but that is a judgment call and that process isn’t as clear-cut as Jolly implies above.

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