The question is, is it working?
The short answer is yes. Increasingly, the president’s almost daily attacks seem to be delivering the desired effect, despite the many examples of powerful reporting on his presidency. By one measure, a CBS News poll over the summer, 91 percent of “strong Trump supporters” trust him to provide accurate information; 11 percent said the same about the news media.
Mr. Trump was open about the tactic in a 2016 conversation with Lesley Stahl of CBS News, which she shared earlier this year: “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you,” she quoted him as saying.
And with the president settling on “Fear and Falsehoods” as an election strategy, as The Washington Post put it last week, the political information system is awash in more misleading or flatly wrong assertions than reporters can keep up with. It’s as if President Trump has hit the journalism industry with a denial-of-service attack.
We have seen gross distortions aplenty during political low moments in this country. But something like the “Swift Boat” campaign against the Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004 — with its accusations that the candidate had faked his war record — seems almost quaint in retrospect. That attempt drew scrutiny from major media organizations, and eventually led to broad condemnation, even from the candidate it was intended to benefit, President George W. Bush.
Now, partisan smears are a staple of every single news cycle. As crude pipe bombs were discovered at CNN headquarters and in mailboxes across the country, Mr. Trump’s supporters like the Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh and the conservative writer Ann Coulter asserted that the crime was a frame job by Democrats.
Before pipe bombs and the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings dominated the news, the main story was the migrant caravan — and it was accompanied by wild speculation on talk radio, social media and from opinionated personalities on Fox News. A myth went viral: the thousands of desperate Hondurans making their slow way toward the American border were players in a drama hatched by Democrats and funded by the right’s all-purpose villain, Mr. Soros, a notion Mr. Trump seemed to nod to at a rally in Montana.
Reporters respond by pointing out that these assertions have no basis in fact, just as they attempt to knock back Mr. Trump’s manufactured content by producing running tallies of his false statements — more than 5,000, says The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column.
Now and then journalists will resort to the L-word, “lie,” as The New York Times has done on occasion. Other frequent targets of the president’s disdain, CNN and MSNBC, have debunked his claims with onscreen headlines and endless panel discussions.
Such good-faith efforts, however, seem increasingly ineffectual. The president has succeeded in casting journalists as the prime foils on his never-ending reality show, much to the delight of those who cheer him on at rallies.
“He has succeeded in creating a daily narrative in which he is the central figure,” Steve Coll, the dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism and a staff writer at The New Yorker, told me. “And he uses props and invented opposition — whether they are migrants hundreds of miles from the U.S. border or the press right in front of him — to pursue this kind of idea he has about how his populism works.”
Again, the media has allowed themselves to be maneuvered into a position where 90% of Trump supporters don't believe a word they say, and more than half of everybody doesn't either
. There are many reasons for this, the rise of online media that more easily manipulates people and that can be easily manipulated by
people, increasingly corporate control of news outlets by a handful of companies, the consolidation of local newspapers and local TV news, and the massive layoffs in the news business over the last 15 years. And all those actions were conscious choices
In other words, everything the American media could have done in order to make themselves vulnerable to a proto-fascist demagogue like Trump, they did. Trust in the media is in shambles means that not only are Americans being massively misinformed, it means there are Americans who know they are being fed lies, but the lies are convenient enough to allow them to hate who they want to
, as Steve M tells us.
I want to know what percentage of the American public -- and, specifically, what percentage of the Republican electorate -- believes what's been reported about Cesar Sayoc. I assume that Democrats and independents will overwhelmingly say they believe what we've been told about him: that he's a Trump supporter who decided on his own to build and mail pipe bombs to people on the president's enemies list.
But what percentage of Republicans believe that? Is it even a majority?
A polling firm should lay out law enforcement's allegations and the conspiracy nuts' scenarios -- that Democrats or a certain billionaire Democratic donor paid the guy, or that the recipients sent the bombs to themselves -- and ask what respondents believe. Or the poll could ask whether law enforcement's story is true and then give doubters an open-ended chance to tell us their pet theories.
I think most Republicans will be doubters, or at least the number of doubters and "not sure" respondents will outnumber those who believe what law enforcement has told us.
That's exactly right. Trump's lies are all the excuse bigots need to be bigots.
There is no longer shame in being a racist hatemonger in America when the elected leader of the country is arguably the most vocal example of one, and now that the trust in the news media has been lost, most likely irrevocably, there's little the media can now do to stop him.
You guys had your chance. You blew it. The time to ask these questions was in Summer, 2016.
Instead it became "But her emails."
The game's over, and we all lost.