Why the Media’s Trump Lie Machine is Failing
No one believes the media anymore.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.
Every five minutes the many mouths of the media broadcast, type, post and shriek that President Donald J. Trump is a liar. After months of this treatment, more voters find him truthful than them.
49% of voters believe that Trump and his people are telling the truth. Only 39% believe that the media is.
The media’s war on President Trump isn’t hurting him. It is destroying the media’s own credibility.
After Trump’s win, the media came to the conclusion that its biased attacks on him had been too subtle and understated to connect with the “dumb” voters. So it decided to be far more overt about its smears.
The New York Times, which used to be the best at disguising its biases in the omnipotent voice of professional journalism, called President Trump a liar in its headlines. The media cheered this descent into naked partisanship by the paper of record. But it didn’t hurt Trump. It hurt the Times.
Headlines blasting President Trump as a “liar” are easy enough to find on the internet. The New York Times derives much of its influence from its appearance of serious professionalism. Calling Trump names made it hard to distinguish the New York Times from the Huffington Post.
The first time the New York Times called Trump a liar was during the election. Times editor Dean Baquet insisted that while Hillary Clinton might “obfuscate, exaggerate”, Trump was a liar. And when the Times printed lies about Trump, it too was no doubt merely obfuscating and exaggerating rather than lying.
The Times can’t call its own candidate who lied about landing “under sniper fire” in Bosnia, negotiating peace in Northern Ireland and being kept out of NASA and the Marine Corps by sexism, a liar. And yet it expects someone, anyone, to believe that calling Trump a liar is anything more than a partisan smear.
Before the first debate, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and Politico all ran stories accusing Trump of being a liar. The coordinated attack failed to accomplish anything at all.
“Our president is a pathological liar. Say it. Write it. Never become inured to it,” Times columnist Charles Blow ranted in January. By February, the Times was reduced to writing explainers to explain why its lies weren’t working. “Why Nobody Cares the President Is Lying.”
The public had become inured to a partisan attack from a partisan press.
The more the media attacked Trump, the less effective those attacks became. To call anyone else a liar, you need to tell the truth. And truth requires objectivity. The media had discarded objectivity in pursuit of political goals, but still “identified” as objective. In the parlance of political correctness, you are what you “identify” as, but the real world has never brought into this lie masquerading as a delusion.
Truth is not who you pretend to be. It’s who you are.
The media wanted the authority to determining who was lying without the responsibility of telling the truth. As the media made its partisan bias more obvious, it lost the credibility it needed. The more the media called President Trump a liar, the more the public believed that the media was lying.
“I think we're in a remarkably partisan moment, where people who don't like Donald Trump feel like the media is not doing enough about him. I think that's just wrong,” Dean Baquet complained.
The media is doing more than ever. And it’s accomplishing less than ever.
Instead the media has become trapped in a cycle of impotence. The harder it attacks Trump, the more credibility it loses. And this makes its attacks on him even more spectacularly ineffective.
Its arrogance has become its own undoing.
There were two reasons for the media’s influence. It had the infrastructure and it had credibility. The internet has made infrastructure largely irrelevant. If you are sitting in an airport, you might be stuck in front of a monitor playing CNN. But it’s usually just as easy to punch up FOX News on your phone.
The billions of dollars in media infrastructure, printing presses, broadcast towers and licenses, are becoming more irrelevant every year. And the media’s credibility is becoming irrelevant even faster.
Without broadcasting infrastructure, the media’s reach depends on credibility. The majority of Democrats still believe the media. The vast majority of Republicans do not. The media is an echo chamber that reflects this partisan structure. And its echo doesn’t reach past the ranks of the left.
The media is baffled at the futility of its efforts against Trump. It still can’t conceive of a world in which it isn’t trusted or needed. But Americans already don’t trust the media. And they don’t need it either.
The existence of a professional class of men and women who write about events was a leftover from an era when communication speeds were rising, but distribution still required investing in infrastructure: whether it was a printing press or a broadcast tower. The internet makes distribution absurdly easy.
Even the old privileges of the press, like the press corps, can be easily stripped away from it, as the White House has demonstrated by expanding the press corps to include more conservative outlets.
The New York Times was once known as the paper of record because it set the agenda for smaller papers. As one editor declared, “We set the agenda for the country in that room.” But the Times doesn’t set the agenda anymore. The internet does. The media’s political content is driven by the talking points of left-wing Twitter and the rest of its national offerings consist of viral videos and trending topics.
The media bemoans the collapse of its influence as a “post-truth world” filled with “Fake News” and
“alternative facts”. But it was the media that destroyed its hegemony of credibility. After unveiling its “Fake News” smear, it quickly pulled it back again because it was all too easy for conservatives to use it to expose the flood of media lies.
A post-truth world rejects objectivity. The media imagines that its fact checks, which spin and editorialize shamelessly, put it on the side of truth. But truth is more than finding a factoid you can use to make a lie seem more plausible or a truth more unlikely. It’s intellectual honesty for its own sake.
The media believes that its left-wing goals are more important than objectivity or truth. But by abandoning the principles it claimed to live by, it destroyed its ability to achieve those goals.