At a recent Wisconsin rally, Donald Trump plunged to new depths with regard to a woman’s right to choose. Regaling his loyal supporters with a gruesome, fictional account of what happens in a delivery room, Trump insisted that doctors and mothers often conspire to “execute” healthy newborns. Beyond shocking, Trump’s grisly lie represented his latest mental leap into a world of fantastic violence. Yet in covering the rally and the ghastly infanticide claim, the New York Times could only summon enough courage to call Trump’s hideous declaration “a standard, and inaccurate, refrain.”
Let’s be clear: “An inaccurate refrain” is where you end up as a newsroom when you’ve spent two years trying not to type the words “lie” and “liar” when covering Trump. (This, as Trump’s presidency officially becomes the Land of 10,000 Lies.) For a newsroom, “an inaccurate refrain” represents a silly, surreal, and absurdist place to be, and it ought to haunt the Times for years to come.
Dancing around the L-words represents a crucial judgment call that the press made very early on in the Trump presidency, and it has defined much of the coverage ever since. Journalists quickly realized that the new president lies about everything, starting right away with the size of his inauguration crowd. But most journalists made a tactical decision to play dumb and to water down the language it used when describing Trump’s nonstop prevarications. So instead of simple truth-telling, which is what good journalism is all about, we’ve been bombarded with a new brand of Beltway-speak that goes out of its way to deliver an utterly convoluted version of events for the last two years. Whether concerned about losing access to the Trump White House or about being hit with claims of “liberal media bias,” the Times has led the press charge to play dumb.
It’s one of the most consequential decisions news organizations such as the Times have made in recent years. And it is, hands down, one of the strangest hills for any newsroom to die on. Why would it matter if Trump gets called a liar openly and without pause by the press? Because it signals to everyone that this country faces a national crisis. It wipes away any doubt regarding Trump’s dangerous and radical nature. It would rip away the false veneer of normalcy that news outlets seem so desperate to maintain in the Trump era.
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