May 28, 2016


Trump consistency about being inconsistent seems almost calculated to destroy the accountability that comes with being interviewed. It has already managed to displace the usual policy wonkery and debate of issues with something showier and more grand. A Trump political rally seeks to focus collective emotions, not make reasoned cases for one set of policies over another. To borrow a page from the rhetoricians, Trump rejects logos (the appeal to reason) when making his pitch and goes directly to pathos (the appeal to emotion) as he strives to elicit tears, laughter, and ultimately agreement from his supporters.

In dismissing logic and consistency for pure emotion, Trump has created a powerful reality-distortion field in both politics and journalism. The field doesn’t actually permit Trump to “get away with” lying in interviews: If you query his supporters, most will concede their man’s many fibs. In their minds, though, the “truth” matters less than what’s in Trump’s heart. It’s not that truth and fact don’t matter to them—it’s that truth and facts don’t matter enough to affect whether you want to vote for him. In an environment in which political success is almost totally detached from information, the “truth-finding” interview is becoming one of the first casualties.

By rejecting the authority of the press to judge him, Trump has debilitated if not destroyed the power of the interview, befuddling a press corps that still believes it can bring him down with one more gotcha, one more “Pinocchio”, one more “Pants On Fire” from the fact-checkers. Trump is laughing at them now.

— “How Donald Trump Destroyed the Interview—A century-old political institution may have met its match,” Jack Shafer, the Politico, yesterday.

In 1993, novelist Michael Crichton riled the news business with a Wired magazine essay titled “Mediasaurus,” in which he prophesied the death of the mass media—specifically the New York Times and the commercial networks. “Vanished, without a trace,” he wrote.

The mediasaurs had about a decade to live, he wrote, before technological advances—”artificial intelligence agents roaming the databases, downloading stuff I am interested in, and assembling for me a front page”—swept them under. Shedding no tears, Crichton wrote that the shoddy mass media deserved its deadly fate.

“[T]he American media produce a product of very poor quality,” he lectured. “Its information is not reliable, it has too much chrome and glitz, its doors rattle, it breaks down almost immediately, and it’s sold without warranty. It’s flashy but it’s basically junk.”

* * * * * * * *

As we pass his prediction’s 15-year anniversary, I’ve got to declare advantage Crichton. Rot afflicts the newspaper industry, which is shedding staff, circulation, and revenues. It’s gotten so bad in newspaperville that some people want Google to buy the Times and run it as a charity! Evening news viewership continues to evaporate, and while the mass media aren’t going extinct tomorrow, Crichton’s original observations about the media future now ring more true than false. Ask any journalist.

“Michael Crichton, Vindicated — His 1993 prediction of mass-media extinction now looks on target,” Jack Shafer, Slate, May 29 2008.


Consider, after all, the last month in politics. Recently, news stories noted that a White House guest rapper, paroled on a pending felony charge, had his ankle bracelet go off. The White House deputy national security advisor and senior speechwriter Ben Rhodes bragged about how he more or less lied and perpetuated a con to ram through the Iran deal without Senate oversight. Former Obama speechwriters joked on television about writing the lie, “If you like your insurance, you can keep it.” Obama himself threatened to cut off federal funds to states that did not share his reinterpretation of the 1972 Title IX Amendments to include bathroom access of their choice for the transgendered. Meanwhile, the FBI weighs a federal felony indictment against Hillary Clinton, just as stories have resurfaced of Bill Clinton’s frequent and unescorted flights on convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein notorious “Lolita Express.” If that is a typical month in the life of the current administration and ongoing presidential campaign, then what exactly are the norms by which we can judge Trump as a renegade?  The proper critique of Trump is that he would not restore decorum to political discourse and behavior that long ago were debased.

“Why Republicans Will Vote For Trump,” Victor Davis Hanson, the Hoover Institute, Tuesday.

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