News & Politics

If the Media Doesn't Tell the Truth, What Use Is It?

Sometimes it gets so even I have trouble remembering, but I have been — and still am — pretty skeptical about Trump as president. Oh, much less so than I was a year ago, and there’s still no question he’s better than Hillary, but the other positions that he seems to be consistent about are the major ones with which I disagree. But then, the reason I’m much less skeptical than I used to be is that he’s done a lot of things of which I do approve.

The last year or so, however, has made me a lot more skeptical about the media — the legacy media in particular, but with a few exceptions, all the media.

Some of it is the Trump Trance phenomenon that I’ve written about before. The most recent occurrence, which I honestly didn’t think was worth yet another column, was when Trump said we should learn from the example of General Pershing combating the Moros in the Philippines. He said it; the usual complainers did fact checks and said “Trump is quoting an urban legend,” claiming that Trump meant the story about dipping bullets in pig blood. Now, that turns out to actually be an urban legend, or at least very poorly sourced, but it ignored two things: first, Trump didn’t actually refer to the “bullets in pig blood” story, and second, General Pershing did actually write at some length about how he’d dealt with the Moros, including how they had resorted to burying Moros with dead pigs.

Like many of the previous Trump Trance events, what happened was that Trump said something, the media made up some interpretation of what he said, and then the media attacked him for their interpretation.

So that’s no particular surprise. After all, I’ve written about that effect several times in the past. But it’s not just confined to the legacy left-leaning media. Yesterday, Jim Treacher at The Daily Caller posted a story: “Bill And Hillary Clinton Finally Sell Hamptons Mansion.” Only one problem: Bill and Hillary didn’t actually own the mansion. Follow the link, and you get to the real story: the Hamptons mansion that Bill and Hillary have rented in the past has been on the market and under contract for two years, and the sale finally closed.

There are lots of things that you could say about this — like observing that it’s cool how people who were flat broke in 2000 can afford $150,000 a month rent for a summer place — but you can’t honestly say “the Clintons finally sell their mansion.” This is why God made the passive voice: you write a headline like the Free Beacon did — “Clinton Hamptons ‘Summer Vacation Rental’ Sells For $29 Million.”

So, I admit I’m kind of a stick in the mud about these things, as plenty of people more or less on the left were happy to complain when I was pointing out that Trump didn’t actually say there had been a terrorist attack in Sweden. But it’s gotten to the point that when I see any headline that’s even slightly controversial about Trump, the Clintons, or the Russia story, I automatically disbelieve it and try to check.

About 90 percent of the time, I’m right to have done so.

A long time ago I was consulting on Wall Street, and I got reprimanded for telling the customer the truth; I asked at the time what good we were as consultants if the client couldn’t trust what we had to say. The same question should apply for journalists. If we can’t trust you to get the basic facts right, what use are you?

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