Donald Trump is president of the United States. Typically, the people who occupy that position deserve extraordinary degrees of scrutiny; everything they say and do must be broken down, fact-checked, extremely vetted by the media. That’s what our democracy demands.
This compact, however, presupposes that the assertions and contentions of a president are made in good faith.
As is his tendency, Trump is destroying this norm. Speaking Monday to the U.S. Central Command, Trump said, “You’ve seen what happened in Paris, and Nice. All over Europe, it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.” Such a reckless claim invited attention, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited attacks that, in the view of the president, had been “underreported.”
“He felt members of the media don’t always cover some of those events to the extent that other events might get covered,” Spicer stated. “Protests will get blown out of the water, and yet an attack or a foiled attack doesn’t necessarily get the same coverage.” The White House released a timeline of 78 U.S. and overseas attacks — including some that commanded saturation coverage — dating from September 2014 through December 2016. That time frame just so happens to encompass Trump’s campaign for president, a series of events that the media over-covered.
Refutation of the list has been robust. CNN, for example, has shown a screen broken down into multiple small terror-reporting boxes. Host John Berman said, “Fact is, CNN was on the ground — look at these pictures — for a great many of these attacks. These are just a few of the scenes from Orlando, Brussels, Paris … Nice, San Bernardino, Paris twice, I should add, and right here in New York. And look — we’re not trying to say, ‘I told you so here.’ It’s just the fact that the media has covered a lot of what the president said we did not.” The Guardian has vetted the entire list of shootings, knife attacks and beheadings. The New York Times handled the refutation this way: “The list included the major attacks in Paris; Brussels; San Bernardino, Calif.; and Orlando, Fla., that dominated the news for weeks. Other attacks overseas, lesser known to Americans, received extensive local coverage, like a shooting in Zvornik, Bosnia, in April 2015 in which one police officer was killed and two others were wounded.”
These news organizations are doing what news organizations are built to do: Hold the president accountable for his irresponsible approach to the truth. They can’t be faulted for that. At the same time, though, they’re doing the bidding of a fear-mongering president in reciting the greatest hits of terrorists.
There are no winners in a civic discussion founded upon mendacity.