How Trump tests news con­sumers, jour­nal­ists

The Mercury News Weekend - - OTHER VIEWS - By E. J. Dionne Jr. E. J. Dionne is a Washington Post colum­nist.

Good re­porters and ed­i­tors la­bor might­ily to be fair-minded in their re­port­ing of events. But the larger bat­tle, cap­tured by the phrase “win­ning the news cy­cle,” in­volves a fierce com­pe­ti­tion to push re­ports that help your own side to the top while sidelin­ing those that serve the in­ter­ests of your op­po­nents.

In the Trump Era, this clash has fun­da­men­tally changed be­cause the pres­i­dent and his lieu­tenants have re­al­ized that ly­ing works; shame­less dis­sem­bling is now stan­dard op­er­at­ing procedure for the White House. Par­ti­san out­lets go with Trump’s ver­sions of events, even when they are demon­stra­bly false. Main­stream out­lets feel duty-bound to re­port them, even as they de­bunk the lies.

Alexan­der Hamil­ton taught long ago that the despot’s “ob­ject is to throw things into con­fu­sion that he may ‘ride the storm and di­rect the whirl­wind.’ ” If the news gets trou­ble­some, Trump cre­ates all con­tro­ver­sies and dis­trac­tions that con­sume me­dia space and time.

His lat­est dis­cov­ery is how his par­don power can be a big news- cy­cle hit, es­pe­cially when a celebrity is blended in. Trump an­nounced on Wed­nes­day he was com­mut­ing the life sen­tence of Alice Marie John­son, con­victed in 1996 on drug pos­ses­sion charges, af­ter her cause was cham­pi­oned by Kim Kar­dashian.

This fol­lowed his us­ing the re­fusal of so many mem- bers of the Su­per Bowl-win­ning Philadelphia Ea­gles to go to a White House vic­tory cer­e­mony as an ex­cuse to launch yet another at­tack on kneel­ing NFL players. He also sug­gested that Ea­gles players dis­agreed with his in­sis­tence “that they proudly stand for the na­tional an­them,” when in fact no one on the Philly squad ever knelt last sea­son.

And the sheer vol­ume of cor­rup­tion re­ports means that they start to drown each other out.

Then there’s bal­ance. So much of the jour­nal­ism about Trump is neg­a­tive be­cause of what he does ev­ery day and be­cause of what Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion and hard­work­ing re­porters reg­u­larly turn up. But jour­nal­ists feel ob­li­gated to show them being tough on Democrats. Look­ing “par­ti­san” is a grave trans­gres­sion.

Lord knows, Democrats have their prob­lems. Their own politi­cians reg­u­larly point them out by way of scor­ing points in the party’s fac­tional wars. But with this year’s pri­maries nearly over, let’s at least shelve cer­tain sto­ry­lines that are sim- ply wrong.

The Demo­cratic pri­mary elec­torate is not veer­ing sharply to the left. Democrats cast prag­matic pri­mary bal­lots in large num­bers be­cause they de­voutly want to end their pow­er­less­ness.

This prag­ma­tism is what al­lowed Democrats to avoid catas­tro­phe in Cal­i­for­nia on Tues­day.

Be­cause of the state’s ap­pro­pri­ately nick­named “jun­gle pri­mary,” the top two fin­ish­ers in the first round com­pete in Novem­ber, even if they are in the same party. Although a cou­ple of races were close, it ap­pears there will be Demo­cratic can­di­dates on the bal­lot this fall in ev­ery tar­get dis­trict.

So let’s agree on two things.

First, Democrats will make enough mis­takes be­tween now and Elec­tion Day to give jour­nal­ists op­por­tu­nity to look bal­anced. There’s no need to keep flog­ging flawed talk­ing points. And there’s noth­ing im­bal­anced about Trump’s sins dom­i­nat­ing the news. It’s not themedia’s fault that there are so many of them.

Sec­ond, Trump tests both jour­nal­ists and news con­sumers in a way they’ve never been tested be­fore. Like would-be au­to­crats else­where, Trump is pursuing a strat­egy of dis­ori­ent­ing the cit­i­zenry with a steady stream of provo­ca­tions, un­truths and di­ver­sions. We can­not af­ford to treat any of this as the usual spin or gar­den va­ri­ety pol­i­tics.


Trump has found his par­don power can be a big news-cy­cle hit, es­pe­cially when a celebrity like Kim Kar­dashian is blended in.

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