The news media and politicians keep using the Big Lie tactic because, sadly, it works.
One reason such lies work is that, unfortunately, people just aren’t, on average, very smart or attentive. The Atlantic Monthly’s two-year old “scoop” that the President had denigrated American servicemen during a trip abroad according to four “officials” who nonetheless didn’t have the integrity or courage to take responsibility for their story was self-evidently a pro-Biden smear job, identifiable both by its timing and its journalistic inadequacies. It arrived when there was legitimate news that was favorable to the President, yet the phony story received most of the ink and air time, even from Fox News and the conservative media, the latter of which discussed the rottenness of the tactic rather than its substance.
As Big Lies go—this was a micro-Big Lie, other than the recurring and still surfacing macro-Big Lies that have served as the foundation of the relentless anti-Trump assault since the 2016 election—this one was rather well constructed, being based as it was on one of Trump’s stupidest and most damaging utterances, his campaign swipe at John McCain and Vietnam prisoners of war. It was not a sub-Big Lie, relying on one of the Big Nine, because, after all, this one draws its strength from a fact: the President is an asshole, and unlike other recent asshole Presidents like Obama and Clinton, he doesn’t even try to hide it.
Nonetheless, the fact that a well-proven anti-Trump organ published this just as the riots were starting to take their toll on Joe Biden’s hate-fueled support and had to use anonymous sources to create it was, or should have been, plenty to allow even the semi-dim among the public to discern what was going on. Then came the multiple claims that Fox News and others had “confirmed” the story, which, of course, they hadn’t. This was incompetent and embarrassing, and it was immediately obvious to me, as it should have been for anyone with a modicum of education and two brain cells to rub together. I saw the “confirmation” report right after completing the September 4 post about news media disinformation, and wrote,
Fox saying it “corroborated” what Trump said is flat out false. If someone tells NBC I’m an anteater, and I deny it, then ABC talks to the same lunatic who says I’m an anteater and he repeats his accusation, did ABC corroborate that I’m an anteater?
Yet, incredibly—yes, after all this time, I still find the the lack of basic critical thinking skills among so much of the public hard to believe–a lot of people couldn’t see this. I know it sounds arrogant, but I have to regard this episode as either an IQ test or a corruption test: if you don’t see what’s going on, either you’re not very bright, or you are allowing yourself to enable lie.
Glenn Greenwald wrote a whole essay for the slow-witted about what the news media is doing here , unfortunately, slow-witted Americans don’t read The Intercept. He begins by recalling one of the worst CNN false reports pushing the Russia collusion coup effort, now down a memory hole, as CNN (and its fixer Brian Stelter) still insist that the networks reporting on that debacle was impeccable. Greenwald writes,
Very shortly after CNN unveiled its false story, MSNBC’s intelligence community spokesman Ken Dilanian went on air and breathlessly announced that he had obtained independentconfirmation that the CNN story was true. In a video segment I cannot recommend highly enough, Dilanian was introduced by an incredibly excited Hallie Jackson — who urged Dilanian to “tell us what we’ve just now learned,” adding, “I know you and some of our colleagues have confirmed some of this information: What’s up?” Dilanian then proceeded to explain what he had learned:
“That’s right, Hallie. Two sources with direct knowledge of this are telling us that congressional investigators have obtained an email from a man named “Mike Erickson” — obviously they don’t know if that’s his real name — offering Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. access to WikiLeaks documents. … It goes to the heart of the collusion question. … One of the big questions is: Did [Trump Jr.] call the FBI?”
How could that happen? How could MSNBC purport to confirm a false story from CNN? Shortly after, CBS News also purported to have “confirmed” the same false story: that Trump Jr. received advanced access to the WikiLeaks documents. It’s one thing for a news outlet to make a mistake in reporting by, for instance, misreporting the date of an email and thus getting the story completely wrong. But how is it possible that multiple other outlets could “confirm” the same false report?
It’s possible because news outlets have completely distorted the term “confirmation” beyond all recognition. Indeed, they now use it to mean the exact opposite of what it actually means, thereby draping themselves in journalistic glory they have not earned and, worse, deceiving the public into believing that an unproven assertion has, in fact, been proven. With this disinformation method, they are doing the exact opposite of what journalism, at its core, is supposed to do: separate fact from speculation.
The effectiveness of this technique depends on confirmation bias. A late, periodically lamented left-biased commentator here insisted that he knew Trump colluded with Russia to steal the election because that’s the kind of person he is. This, of course, is bigotry as well as confirmation bias, but that kind of thought process is driving the willingness of so many to accept an inherently unreliable story.
Greenwald neatly explains why the story should not have been published, much less “confirmed”:
The same misleading tactic is now driving the supremely dumb but all-consuming news cycle centered on whether President Trump, as first reported by the Atlantic’s editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, made disparaging comments about The Troops. Goldberg claims that “four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day” — whom the magazine refuses to name because they fear “angry tweets” — told him that Trump made these comments. Trump, as well as former aides who were present that day (including Sarah Huckabee Sanders and John Bolton), deny that the report is accurate.
Under the journalism standards so prominently extolled in “All The President’s Men,” such a lame hit job would never have gotten past Ben Bradley.
Ann Althouse today revisits the “confirmation” con as well, writing,
If Rumormonger tells a story to Newspaper1 and then Rumormonger tells the story to Newspaper2, Newspaper2 can’t say that it is confirming the story! It can only confirm that Rumormonger is mongering that story. There’s no more confirmation than if Newspaper1 and Newspaper2 were on a conference call with Rumormonger and heard the story simultaneously.
Well, yeah. Isn’t that obvious? Apparently not. Meanwhile, the Atlantic’s slur is still being believed because so many people want to believe it (Big Lie genius #1) and because it is the kind of smear that has to be denied, thus giving the Big Lie legitimacy by receiving the dignity of a rebuttal(Big Lie genius #2).
Trump, meanwhile, also assists these tactics because he is so undisciplined, and couldn’t restrain himself from attacking the Fox reporter who “confirmed” the story. That set off another controversy: a President calling for a journalist to be fired for doing her job! Part of the Get Trump strategy is to try to infuriate him, and provoke him into making a fatal mistake in a fit of rage. He also denied that he had ever called McCain a “loser,” and that’s a matter of record. See? If he’d lie about that, why believe his denials about the Atlantic story?
Jonathan Turley, in an article in The Hill, seems to suggest that the news media damages itself at least as much as the President with such tactics, ironically making it less valuable as a Democratic Party ally. He writes in part,
If an article included such an alleged statement by either President Bush, it would have been dismissed instantly as ridiculous. Over the past three years Trump has made himself vulnerable to such allegations, due to his history of outrageous remarks.
Yet the same is true of the media. Three years ago, a story of this kind would have been devastating for any president — but the media has rendered itself as unbelievable as the subject of its current ire. While denouncing Trump as a pathological liar, the media has been pathologically biased. …Most of the media now feeds a steady diet of unrelentingly negative stories to a shrinking audience of true believers. As a result, the media has hit a historic low, with less than half of the populace finding it credible….The Knight Foundation has found that three-fourths of the public believe the media is too biased; some 54 percent believe reporters regularly misrepresent facts, and 28 percent believe reporters make things up entirely.
There is a reason for this view of bias: It’s true. Many journalists do not attempt to hide their anti-Trump agendas. In the age of “echo-journalism,” it is even viewed as an essential commitment on some networks. False stories about Trump or Trump aides have been published regularly, only to be quietly withdrawn or “corrected” after the news cycle has run.
Indeed, as reporters pummeled the White House with angry questions over the Atlantic story, a press conference held by Democratic nominee Joe Biden was the very image of deference and decorum. Reporters seemed to go out of their way to confirm months of criticism over the softball treatment given to Biden. Atlantic staff writer Edward Isaac Dovere asked Biden: “When you hear these remarks — ‘suckers,’ ‘losers,’ recoiling from amputees — what does it tell you about President Trump’s soul and the life he leads?”
…The core alleged comment, attributed to unnamed sources, has been denied by a host of officials who were with Trump in France at that time, including figures like former national security adviser John Bolton. The article also states that Trump did not visit the cemetery in part over his concern that the rainy day would mess up his hair, but White House documents show that, as stated at the time, the military notified his staff that the presidential helicopter should be grounded. Bolton has confirmed the weather was the reason and noted that, if this story were true, he would have made it a chapter in his anti-Trump book. Trump might not have wanted to go, but the reason was a bad helicopter day, not a bad hair day…
In short…it is a Big Lie.