Today the talking heads’ heads couldn’t stop talking about the Great Crowd Size Controversy.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer called a special press conference yesteray evening to berate the news media for, he said, misrepresenting the size of Friday’s Inauguration crowd. He said,
“[P]hotographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall…This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period —both in person and around the globe. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”
This was gleefully pounced upon by Spicer’s targets, who then ran story after story showing that 1) the 2017 Inauguration crowds were smaller than the previous two Inaugurations, 2) Spicer was lying, and 3) hence Trump was lying, so 4) Trump had berated the news media for simply telling the truth, and 5) Spicer had forfeited all credibility on his first day on the job, the fool.
Points of ethical clarification and exposition:
1. The news media had already destroyed its own credibility regarding the Trump administration before Day One, with its unfettered hostility and bias against the incoming President. No assessment of the Great Crowd Size Controversy can commence without understanding that context. Everything the mainstream news media prints or says about Trump from here on–unless the journalistic establishment changes course—will be interpreted in that light by fair-minded, non-gullible people. In addition, nobody sane, or not determined to diminish Trump in any way possible no matter how petty, gives an urban rodent’s derriere how the crowd at Trump’s Inauguration compared to Barack Obama’s. Quick: was Truman’s crowd bigger or smaller than the assembled at FDR’s second swearing-in? Was Polk’s throng larger or smaller than Lincoln’s? Was Wilson’s larger than Taft’s? I’m a Presidential trivia nut, and I don’t know or care. it just doesn’t matter. At all. Ever.
2. Other “scoops” from last week prove how derangedly anti-Trump the news media has been.. The New York Times intentionally misrepresented facts to make Secretary of Energy Rick Perry look ridiculous, when one hardly has to misrepresent anything to make Rick Perry look ridiculous. TIME published a demonstrably false story about Trump removing the bust of Martin Luther King from its place in the White House. Why did it do this? Why do you think? The average reporter has adopted the Democratic narrative that Trump is racistxenophobicmisogynisthomophobic, so TIME’s reporter believed bad information without checking it, because it reflected badly on Trump, and TIME’s editors did the same. Is this crappy journalism? Yes. Fake news? Yup. Did Trump have every reason to resent this? Sure. Does it reaffirm his own biases against the news media? Bingo.
When the new administration challenged the story, as it should have, what was The Hill headline? “Trump Attacks Reporter For Mistake About MLK Bust.” That Trump, he’s so mean! Fair headline: “TIME Falsely Accuses White House Of Rejecting MLK Bust.” Ah, but that would require the news media to report unflattering facts about the news media. Can’t have that. Remember the mission, everyone! From now on, make Trump look as bad as possible to the American people!
3. I watched the coverage on multiple channels on Friday. The reporters, to various degrees, were obsessed with crowd size, and mentioned at every opportunity that Trump’s throng was smaller than Obama’s had been. Not one of the reporters noting this that I heard—maybe someone was fair—pointed out the blazingly obvious reasons why the crowds were smaller.
First, Obama was being Inaugurated as the first and only black President in an overwhelmingly black city that voted for him more than 9 to 1 both times. All they had to do was walk to the parade. Next door is Maryland, one of the most Democratic states in the country, and across the river is Northern Virginia, the intense Democratic stronghold of a purple state. Many of Trump’s supporters had to travel long distances to D.C.
Second, whites didn’t pressure other whites to boycott the Obama Inaugurations. GOP legislators didn’t declare that Obama was not a legitimate President. Republicans and the news media did not mount a successful (and disgraceful and un-American) effort to reduce the crowd at Trump’s Inauguration, by representing the event as some kind of Satanic ritual.
Third, there were no well-publicized reports of violent protestors organizing to disrupt either Obama Inauguration by force, as there were this time. In fact, hoards of leftist thugs did indeed make the streets of D.C. a battleground.
Finally, Trump’s crowd was comparable to the last Inauguration of a Republican President in 2004. Did anyone point that out? Not many. The objective was to hammer home the idea that this isn’t a “real” President, and the people don’t support him. That was and is the news media’s objective, because that is the Democratic Party’s objective.
4. Should Trump, his supporters and fair-minded citizens be annoyed by this? Sure. Should they be surprised? No. Should anyone, especially the President, have made a big deal about it? Of course not. Doing so is incompetent and irresponsible. It is rising to take bait that will always be out there in various forms, for four years. The news media discredits itself with this stuff.
5. If Trump and Spicer were going to complain, tongue-lash the press and point out the inherent deception, they had an obligation to do it honestly, fairly, and moderately. Instead, Spicer just flat-out lied. I just laid out his argument above, if he wanted to stick to facts. This idiotic episode tells us that Spicer is going to be a mini-Trump, missing good arguments for bad ones and using dubious or made-up facts. No President has desperately needed a smart, witty, credible spokesperson as much as Donald Trump does, and he picked this dummy…you know, one of those “best people” he promised to appoint.
This is called an “unforced error” in tennis. Expect thousands more.
6. Chuck Todd, The Weekly Standard (the conservative publication whose founder and publisher, Bill Kristol, was one of the most vocal NeverTrumpers during the campaign,) and others used this episode to pronounce Spicer uniquely untrustworthy. They are shocked..shocked!…that a White House spokesman would say something that is manifestly untrue. From The Weekly Standard:
“Rule #1 for press relations is that you can obfuscate, you can misrepresent, you can shade the truth to a ridiculous degree, or play dumb and pretend not to know things you absolutely do know. But you can’t peddle affirmative, provable falsehoods. And it’s not because there’s some code of honor among press secretaries, but because once you’re a proven liar in public, you can’t adequately serve your principal. Every principal needs a spokesman who has the ability, in a crunch, to tell the press something important and know that they’ll be believed 100 percent, without reservation.”
Huh? What a great example of the dishonest technique of defining a term so narrowly that only the desired target fits the description! Obfuscating, intentional misrepresentation, “shading the truth to a ridiculous degree,” aka deceit, and pretending not to know things you absolutely do know are all lying. Who says you “can” do this? You can’t do it and remain trustworthy. You can’t do it and be ethical. You can’t do it and not tar the integrity of the President you speak for. What the writer, Jonathan Last—-a journalist himself, so we know where his “ethics” come from—is saying is that you can do these dishonest things designed to deceive the public and get away with it. To Last, Todd and many more in the media, the only bad lying is stupid lying, lying that is easy to expose.
NO. For the White House spokesman to lie is equally unethical no matter what the lie is, or what it is about. Obama’s paid liars, all three of them, lied almost daily about important matters, not crowd sizes. That was worse, not better. When did reporters like Chuck Todd say, “You know, we can’t trust a thing that Josh Earnest/Jay Carney/ Robert Gibbs says, because he lies to us”? Reporters didn’t, but those three White House spokesmen lied constantly and often blatantly….just seldom as stupidly as Spicer did. The difference is that the press had good will toward Obama, always. This is one more double standard.
7. This tears it: I am now officially announcing the news media/ Trump Administration relationship an Ethics Train Wreck, hitherto known as the Trump-News Media Ethics Train Wreck, and I expect it to barrel along, leaving chaos in its wake, for four years. The news media is biased, incompetent and untrustworthy, and the Trump Administration and the President have no idea how to deal with this without being unethical themselves. We can’t trust the Administration, and we can’t trust the news media to criticize the Administration fairly.
Yeah, but who had a bigger crowd at his Inauguration, Benjamin Harrison or Grover Cleveland?