Trump’s contempt initially exploded during the campaign, but it reflects a long-term GOP campaign to erode your trust in verifiable facts, evidence and news stories.
It’s meant to undermine your reliance on mainstream journalists — whether The Cincinnati Enquirer, WVXU or New York Times — for information you need to make your decisions on personal and public policies and actions.
In their place, Trump wants you to accept his unsubstantiated assertions of fact; i.e., climate change, vaccination, immigration, etc.
Nonpartisan polls indicate Trump and the GOP are succeeding. Labeling reporters “dishonest” is especially persuasive among the majority of Americans who don’t read a daily paper, listen to NPR or watch evening news on CBS, NBC and ABC.
Instead, these neighbors rely on Facebook, Fox News, right-wing talk show hosts and alt-right websites.
To test this, London’s Guardian sent a reporter to Macomb County, outside Detroit, where traditional blue-collar Democrats went for Trump.
One mechanic spoke for many when he was unaware of critical stories saturating newspaper front pages and cable news reports since inauguration day.
“Papers? I’ve no idea what they are talking about — I don’t see them. If it don’t put a dime in my pocket, I don’t worry about it.”
Jeff Payne, managing editor of the Macomb Daily, said news media coverage of Trump’s falsehoods tends to be far outweighed by his readers’ distrust of the messenger.
“You can give readers 50 facts that show that Trump is wrong, but when he portrays us in the media industry as the bad guys, that seems to outweigh all of those facts.”
Trump knows this. He’s a master news media manipulator. Trump was president for a day before he sent press secretary Sean Spicer into the pressroom to accuse reporters of deliberately minimizing the inaugural crowd.
Lacking verifiable evidence, Spicer repeatedly cited his boss’ offended grandeur, saying, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” That was not true.
Un-cropped aerial photos of the Mall and Metro fare data easily refuted his falsehood.
A more pernicious Trump claim renewed his denigration of the integrity of the electoral system. “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump tweeted.
Again, he offered no evidence, and Spicer’s repeated assurance that Trump “believes” those unverified numbers is not proof. State election officials from both parties said Trump’s claim was loony.
It got worse. The next day on NBC, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway defended Spicer, saying he gave “alternative facts.” NBC host Chuck Todd didn’t bite, saying alternative facts "are not facts, they're falsehoods!”
There’s more to this than Trump’s adolescent obsession with size. It’s a rejection of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s wise aphorism, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
Trump loathes mainstream news media and reporters whose stories didn’t praise him as candidate or don’t glorify him as president. Trump even used his first appearance before the CIA memorial wall to damn the news media.
His noxious name-calling isn’t going to end; Trump’s narcissistic response to any perceived slight is frontal attack.
As for dishonesty, no sane mainstream journalist would knowingly lie. Mistakes are bad enough. It could be a career killer.
However, facts change. Reporters’ sources often correct or update information. Only malice characterizes differing versions as dishonest or lies.
Think of recent stories about the Italian resort covered by snow. Each day, the number of survivors rose — including three pups — and the feared number of deaths fell. No one with any grip on reality is accusing Italian rescuers of dishonesty or lying as additional facts emerge.
In Washington, updated Metro data showed Trump’s inaugural crowd figures were wrong: too low. Journalists reported that, albeit with some glee.
What Trump, Spicer and Conway could not accept was updated Metro numbers remained lower than Obama’s 2012 crowd.
(This whole mess is a perfect example of why the National Park Service and many other national, state and local officials rarely offer crowd estimates.)
That said, here is a shopping list of statements and pledges that watchdogs can track nationally and, in some cases, locally. The quotes are factual and verifiable, directly from Trump’s inaugural speech:
• “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.”
• “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.”
• “Crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”
• “An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”
• “The very sad depletion of our military.”
• “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”
• “We will bring back our jobs.”
• “We will bring back our borders.”
• “We will bring back our wealth.”
• “We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways.”
• “We will get our people off of welfare and back to work rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.”
• “We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.”
• “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”
• “Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”
• “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”
• “We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.”
• “We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.”
• “We will make America wealthy again.”
• “We will make America safe again.”
Following up on Trump’s speech is not holding him to some imagined higher standard than the Clintons or Obama. They expected the rough-and-tumble of public life and American mainstream news media.
Every sensible, sober president learns to live with that adversarial journalism. It’s a tradition. As for readers, listeners and viewers, we’re better off with our reviled watchdog than Trump’s lapdog.
• Life imitating art is too depressing.
Last month, Curmudgeon warned credulity-challenged readers about Trump’s time with the KGB in Moscow and how he might be turned by the Queen of Diamonds. Then a real former British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) agent produced a real 35-page dossier which reportedly was a KGB compilation to be used to blackmail Trump if he ever became more than a real estate investor.
Curmudgeon also imagined Ivanka Trump’s takeover of White House gift shops to hawk her family’s imported brands. More recently, a reader alerted me to theWashington Post story that the White House website included details of Melania Trump’s “jewelry line at QVC … QVC said ‘Melania is also a successful entrepreneur. In April 2010, Melania Trump launched her own jewelry collection, ‘Melania™ Timepieces & Jewelry,’ on QVC.’ ”
Melania, not Ivanka, but close enough.
Curmudgeon wrote that “Silicon Valley venture capitalists are complaining that any roundup to illegal immigrants would catch Indian computer and software engineers on whom their investments rely. ‘If Trump deports all of them, companies will shut down or turn to engineers in China,’ a rare Trump donor griped.”
Last week, Trump banned most immigrants and refugees from Muslim countries, setting off chaos among high tech companies whose people were caught outside our country. Google, Microsoft, Uber and others had hundreds of employees — naturalized citizens, green card holders, visa holders — barred from re-entry.
Can’t make this stuff up.
• Fashion news media are delighted with Trump women.
Americans are swamped with our versions of “Di & Kate Moments” as click-hungry news media gush over their outfits, accessories and favorite designers. At least the Brits’ queens-in-waiting didn’t peddle branded apparel.
• A Maryland judge refused to dismiss Melania Trump’s libel suit against blogger Webster Tarpley for saying it was “widely known” she was a “high-end escort.”
Tarpley’s lawyers argued unsuccessfully that the accusation was protected because Melania was a public figure. The judge said her husband was but she wasn’t.
Her Maryland libel suit included the New York-based affiliate of London’s Daily Mail tabloid. It reprinted Tarpley’s rumor. The Daily Mail said the suit should have been filed in New York. Politico said Melania also is suing the Daily Mail in Britain.
Melania did lose one claim in pretrial battling. The judge tossed her claim that the blogger and Daily Mail damaged current and prospective business deals was too vague.
• Trump has reignited the spirit of Saint Louis. Not the plane that Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic in 1927 (before he became an American First advocate) but the trans-Atlantic liner SS Saint Louis. That was the ship on which more than 900 Jewish refugees hoped to reach safety in Cuba and the United States in 1939. They were sent back to Europe and an estimated 250 were killed by the Germans.
• Rightwing news media are attacking Trump for lies about inauguration crowds, according to The Guardian. “The Blaze, the Daily Caller and Fox News — generally staunch supporters — all called out Trump for his statement that ‘a million, million and a half people’ attended his inauguration. … It was left to Breitbart News — whose former executive chair Steve Bannon is a senior adviser to Trump and which employs Julia Hahn, a writer linked this weekend to a White House post of her own — to defend the president.
“The conservative news site insisted that ‘it looked like the entire mall was full’ on Friday and described ‘alternative facts’ as ‘a harmless, and accurate, term in a legal setting.’ ”
• Command influence encourages subordinates to act on what they believe the boss wants. That was obvious during Trump’s inauguration when Washington police charged at least six working journalists with felonies. They were among hundreds arrested in police sweeps of protesters, rioters and journalists. None of the journalists was charged with individual criminal activity.
Even as cops drop charges, journalists have arrest records. That’s an enduring way to intimidate reporters and photographers.
It was used infamously against two reporters at Ferguson, Mo., when police didn’t like them covering protests over the shooting death of Michael Brown. Charges eventually were dropped in part because both men had major news organizations providing lawyers. If they’d been freelancers, they probably would have been convicted or bankrupted disproving illegal accusations by vindictive local officers.
• I’m no longer identifying myself as a contributor to Cincinnati’s “alt” weekly. Trump, Steve Bannon of Breitbart News and their fellow travelers have debased that description; people hear “alt” and think “alt right.” I’m back to saying, “CityBeat, Cincinnati’s alternative weekly.”
• Our house is littered with partially read periodicals. Magazines arrive faster than I finish last week’s. That’s how I missed a brilliant parody in the Oct. 17 neo-conservative Weekly Standard.
It begins with a New Yorker quote: “Far from being regarded as a tax avoider, Giuliani insisted, Trump was to be compared to … Winston Churchill.”
Then it parodies the classic 1940 “blood, toil, tears and sweat” statement to Parliament by Prime Minister Winston Churchill:
“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this tremendous Government: I have nothing to offer but amazing, tremendous things, believe me. For one, I offer my blood, and I have very good blood. My doctors say I truly have some of the best blood they’ve ever seen…”
• Enquirer reporter James Pilcher did us all a service with his probe of the past decade’s fatal shootings by Cincinnati police officers. Most victims were African-American men. Details in his first story set the stage: what police and others said were circumstances of the fatal encounters, exonerations of officers and in some cases, incomplete investigations. The second story looked at police disciplinary problems created by the FOP collective bargaining agreement with the city.
• With so many people hiding behind internet anonymity, the comment policy on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. news site is refreshing: “To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.”
• Faithful Reader sent this headline from The Times of Northwest Indiana website: “Student saves classmate by performing Heimlich maneuver on moving bus.”
Fleet of foot, obviously.
CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]