It’s a given that working journalists, whether print, electronic or cyber, need to evaluate what they see or hear, distill it into consumable form and share it with their audience. Consequently, the barrage of opinions emerging from, and about, each Democratic candidate illustrate their strengths and weaknesses and speculate how they might fare in a contest with the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., whose eviction notice may soon be in the mail.
What’s been unequivocally clear over the last three years is that objective journalism has become both an endangered species and a vitally important buffer between Americans and an administration firmly committed to convincing its citizens of things that are simply untrue. Complicating the picture are ostensibly “Fair and Balanced” media outlets such as Fox News; commentators like Rush Limbaugh and a vast, far right array of radio, television and social media networks have, for decades, spewed vitriolic hatred, depicting liberals, as well as most responsible news organizations, as representing something far more malevolent than a difference in political thinking.
The difficulty of reporting factually about the Trump administration is that simply outlining the facts is universally damned by the president’s supporters, who see much of the coverage as negative. Fair enough. However, when facts are actually negative, such as the almost daily adventures in White House dishonesty, journalists often find themselves easy targets of unbridled acrimony, most of it prompted by the president himself, who has depicted those reporters assigned to his press pool as the “Enemies of the People” and their reporting as “fake news.”
The president’s badly bungled confrontation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was the tip of the iceberg these last few weeks as his war with the media accelerated at warp speed while he struggled to control the narrative around the latest threat to his administration, just as he and Attorney General William Barr did with the Mueller Report. Trump’s entreaty to the president of Ukraine to come up with dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden or risk losing U.S. monetary support, sent a shudder through the intelligence community; a clear quid pro quo prompting a whistleblower complaint that was credibly backed up by several lifelong foreign service officials. This was the tipping point for Pelosi, who set in motion the impeachment inquiry, formalized last week through a mostly party line vote.
Impeachment — which has only happened twice in history (Nixon fled on his own) — is, by far, the biggest news thus far of the Trump presidency and only adds to a journalistic landscape already almost impossible to negotiate based on the sheer volume of information generated in the 24/7 news cycle but also a series of conflicting responses from Trump and the Republicans charged with crafting his public defense.
Initially, there was universal quid pro quo denial, a “perfect” call according to the president. Almost as soon as the GOP adopted that specific talking point, did POTUS flip the script, not only admitting to the covert Ukrainian policy but suggesting to a gaggle of reporters outside the White House, that China should do the same. According to the New Yorker, it was like Nixon publicly admitting he authorized the Watergate break-in and that he’d do it again, or Clinton suggesting he lied under oath about the Lewinsky affair and he’d also do it again.
And, of course, with this guy, we’re never all that far from absurdity.
While journalists try to untangle the spew of contradictory statements from Trump and his coterie of enablers, the first president in decades not to have a canine pet, (he hated Ivana’s poodle and evidently “Chappy” returned the favor) appeared to be celebrating dog week at the White House, albeit with his usual rambling incoherence, referring to three sentient beings as “dogs” for different reasons, only one of whom is a dog in real life.
Conan (the dog), instrumental in the raid that killed the ISIS leader abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, moved the president to exclaim: “I call it a dog, a beautiful dog, a talented dog, I call it a dog” as though reading to first graders. The terrorist leader himself “died like a dog ... whimpering, crying and begging like a coward ...” The creepy death narration, like much of what Trump says, required the standard “without evidence” classification. Beto O’Rourke was also, well, canineized as a having “quit like a dog” when he abandoned his presidential bid. Feel free to draw your own conclusions regarding dogs’ bravery, cowardice, beauty and/or talent. Or simply look up doggedly.
Comic relief aside, covering the chaos of this administration has monumental challenges, not the least of which is objectivity, the very foundation on which journalism is based. While real journalists try to present both sides of an issue and provide their readers with several perspectives, the conspiracy-minded, far right media outlets do no such thing. Innuendoes, GOP propaganda and outright lies are their bread and butter. The revered “base” is their creation and Donald Trump is the unintended consequence.
Those on the other side of the aisle would do well to remember that despite Trump’s seemingly catastrophic first term, many polls have him winning again in 2020, several by an Electoral College landslide. While we ask ourselves how this is even remotely possible, one point in our recent history comes to mind. In 2005, a White House staffer rumored to be Karl Rove (he’s denied it) explained to reporter Ron Suskind that journalists were “part of the reality-based world” being left in the dust. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality and while you’re studying that reality — judiciously as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities ... we’re history’s actors and you ... all of you ... will be left to study what we do.”
Welcome to the future.
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.