The Media's Absurd Dance with Donald J. Trump
“Trump has earned the presumption that everything he says on the topic of the Russia investigation is offered in bad faith.”
Paul Waldman, a writer for the Washington Post, The Week and the American Prospect, has cut to the chase in his latest Post column. It's entitled “Time to stop chasing Trump's lies down the rabbit hole” and it's required reading for everyone in the legit news media. Particularly you, “Morning Edition.”
Waldman sums up the absurd dance between the legit media and the 45th president of the United States:
It goes like this: President Trump makes a ridiculous accusation that almost everyone immediately understands to be false. Then we in the media, because it's the president, treat that accusation as though it's something that has to be taken seriously. Then governmental resources are mustered to deal with the accusation. Then Republicans try to twist the mobilization of those resources to give them the answer they‘re seeking. But because it’s all based on a lie, they fail once Democrats force some measure of truth to be revealed.
Worst of all, we‘re going to end up doing it again.
Glenn Kessler and Meg Kelly run through some of the iterations of this maddening pattern. Barack Obama tapped my phones! The Obama administration illegally “unmasked” Americans caught up in surveillance of Russian targets! The Democrats colluded with Russia! The whole Russia investigation happened because of the Steele dossier!
No matter what ludicrous charge Trump makes, the entire political system reacts as though it might be true. If tomorrow the president said that “Robert Mueller” never existed and the person claiming to be him is actually Nancy Pelosi in elaborate makeup, we’d all find ourselves debating whether Mueller is a real person while House Republicans angrily demand that he produce a DNA sample.
The latest example is the repeated charge Trump has made that the Obama administration put a “spy” in his campaign to undermine his campaign. Waldman breaks this down, too:
In this latest case, we learned that in 2016, the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation when it discovered that people associated with the Russian government had made contact with Trump campaign officials. The bureau went about its investigation in the most circumspect way possible: Instead of marching agents into Trump headquarters to interview people on the campaign, they used an experienced informant who quietly reached out to those officials to see what the nature of the Russian contacts was. Then they kept the results of their investigation quiet until after the election so as not to affect the outcome of the race.
Yet Trump took those facts and twisted them around to claim that the bureau, on the direction of the Obama White House, planted a spy in his campaign in order to help Hillary Clinton. This preposterous lie was dutifully repeated by Fox News and talk radio, ramping up pressure to the point where Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein felt it necessary to ask the department’s inspector general to take a look. Then the Trump White House instructed the Justice Department to brief two Republican committee chairs, including shameless Trump lickspittle Rep. Devin Nunes, on the department’s use of that informant. It was only later that they agreed to hold a second meeting to give the same information to the “Gang of 8,” the bipartisan group of congressional leaders who are regularly briefed on intelligence matters.
I like Waldman's solution, too:
At this point, Trump has earned the presumption that everything he says on the topic of the Russia investigation is offered in bad faith and is almost certainly false, until proved otherwise. So we should treat his statements the way we do press releases from the North Korean state news agency. They may be newsworthy in that they show what the regime would like people to believe, but we don't assume that they have any relationship to actual facts.
Here's the thing: Even after Trump, we‘ll still have the above absurd pattern, because we’ll still have Fox News and the current heads of the Republican party, who rely more and more on lies to justify the awful things they do. But yes, no one is better at it, and more dangerous to this country and to democracy, than Donald J. Trump.