Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune has a great column today that is worth your time. The premise of Huppke’s column is about fighting to preserve important things like truth and facts at a time when they are constantly under attack by right-wing sources:
It can feel, especially lately, as if reality has been bent sideways and backward, like facts are meaningless and, quite frankly, like many of us are losing our minds…
…First, the good: Facts still matter, and truth still exists.
Second, the bad: You can’t feel exhausted. You have to cling to the truth, tighter than ever before, because an entire political party, a massive news network and the leader of the free world are trying to pull it away.
Huppke could point to any number of recent examples in making his point, though this case he uses the release this week of a watchdog report which found that the FBI was justified in opening an investigation into President Trump’s 2016 campaign (and its ties to foreign governments) and was not influenced by political bias one way or the other. As Huppke summarizes:
Even a cursory review of the report reveals a thorough debunking of many of the president’s favorite conspiracy theories. It clearly states there is no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced” the decision to launch an investigation into contacts between Russians and Trump campaign members.
The report shows the FBI had an “authorized purpose” for starting the investigation, meaning it was not, as Trump claims ceaselessly, a “witch hunt.” The report even shows that while screams of bias have been leveled ad nauseam at certain investigators who were texting anti-Trump comments, there were also investigators texting pro-Trump comments. There was no evidence either form of bias had bearing on the investigation.
Alas, President Trump and his apologists sought their own sort of “facts.” Trump curiously called the report “far worse than I would’ve ever thought possible.” Fox News talking monkey Sean Hannity breathlessly declared it “the biggest abuse of power corruption scandal in the history of the country.”
As Huppke writes:
Up is down. Dogs are cats. The world is flat as a pancake.
Trump, members of his party and propagandists like Hannity failed to note anything debunked by the report. They didn’t just overlook a few things. They flat-out lied.
And they did it as easy as they breathe.
Like most things in life, you can have a different opinion of these developments…but you cannot claim a different set of facts. As The Washington Post reported today, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz told lawmakers that a senior prosecutor — appointed directly by Attorney General William Barr — failed to convince him that the FBI’s 2016 investigation was improper.
Trump and Hannity are free to say that they disagree with the report’s findings; what they shouldn’t be able to get away with is declaring that the report reached an entirely different set of conclusions. But it happens because Trumpians are incessant about driving false narratives, and because news outlets often let them get away with it.
Take, for example, this Monday story in The Denver Post recapping a day of impeachment hearings in front of the House Judiciary Committee.
The Post headline makes it look like this discussion is a difference of opinion, when in reality it is more about a difference in accepted truth. There is zero evidence that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections, yet the headline treats the discussion as though the facts are still to be determined. As the Post’s Justin Wingerter writes later:
“Isn’t it true that President Trump had a legitimate reason to request help from the Ukraine about the 2016 election?” Rep. Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican, asked a House Judiciary Committee lawyer, who was testifying during the impeachment hearing. “And I’m not suggesting for a minute that Russia didn’t interfere. Of course they interfered! But the Ukraine officials tried to influence the election.”
It’s a view asserted by an increasing number of Republicans in recent days despite the intelligence community and even Trump administration officials saying there was no evidence to support it. Democrats reiterated that on several occasions Monday. [Pols emphasis]
Again, Buck is entitled to his opinion. But media outlets should not allow him to present that opinion as fact.
Even media institutions like the New York Times are guilty of permitting this false factual equivalency. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen was critical of a Times story that reported little more than what different sides had to say about the subject:
“Each side took what it wanted from the day’s developments and drew the conclusions that best reflected its views.” https://t.co/QtCg2jKq89 This is now the best the Times can do. It has maneuvered itself into a null space, where it can only repeat this observation over and over.
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) December 10, 2019
9News in Denver reported on different statements from Members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation, offering little in the way of context until reporter/anchor Kyle Clark Tweeted this separately:
Quite the contortion in @SenCoryGardner‘s statement on impeachment. Says it’s a “total circus” to “appease the far-left” but Gardner says as a juror in Senate they’ll be “bipartisan and fair.” #copolitics #9NEWS pic.twitter.com/KEqqttuVhr
— Kyle Clark (@KyleClark) December 10, 2019
Clark’s comments should have been included in the original 9News story, which went on to quote Rep. Ken Buck (R-Greeley) saying this:
“The Democrats don’t have the evidence to support their case.”
This is not true. Not even a little. 9News should have reported that it is Buck’s “opinion” that Democrats don’t have the evidence to support their case. As Huppke of the Chicago Tribune reminds us, Trump supporters are muddying the waters for a very specific purpose:
Disinformation is intended to wear critics down, to make them feel that resistance is futile, that combating nonsense with facts is a waste of time.
You can’t let that happen. You need to keep your mind right.
News outlets seem to be growing increasingly worried about being viewed as presenting “both sides of the story” at a time when what the public really needs is for the media to present “the accurate side of the story.”