The Czar was perusing the latest quarterly issue of the alumni magazine from his alma mater, which—being a Jesuit institution—is a crap-shoot whether or not it will cause us to slap our forehead. This month, however, it contained an article about perceived media bias, and concluded very much as you should hope it would: yes, Americans largely believe the media lie to them. About everything.
Each time a study or poll comes out about the media and our wise, communal distrust of them, some voices among the guilty offer dumbfounded sputterings about this. “How can they not trust us? Don’t they understand how important we are?” Or better, when the poll mentions fake news, the distancing begins: “Well, you can’t include us in that social-media, right-wing, bot-blogger crap…we are a real news organization.”
What a shame the Prosecco-sipping, Jersey-blue-licking elites in their Manhattan experimental gastrobars no longer invite the Czar and his axe collection to their shindigs, as he would be happy to explain the disconnect.
The average person, unlike the average journalist, has a much broader definition of Fake News. Whereas the latter considers anything by Fox News to be more anti-Hillary sophistry, the former accepts any of the following as candidates:
- Stories that are without any credible source, or stories that rely on unnamed sources.
- Stories about Russian meddling, former Trump assistants, scandals involving cabinet under-secretaries, or Republican internecine warfare.
- Puff pieces about how great the Obama years were.
- Anything that contradicts the individual viewer’s personal experiences, particularly about how great healthcare reform has been, how the tax cut is hurting you, how homeless have suddenly appeared, and why the economy is the worst ever.
- Stories about Trump is edging us closer to war with any nation you can mention.
Why bother continuing? There’s a fundamental disconnect between the media’s definition of Fake News and the public’s much broader, encompassing understanding of it. Today, for example, we are being offered countless explanations about how terrible the State of the Union speech was, and how utterly disappointing we should feel as Americans; although, anecdotes from the streets seem to correspond perfectly with the CBS News poll of SOTU viewers: people were overwhelmingly jazzed by the optimism, including 43% of Democrats. That’s almost half of Democrats, and—no small feat—72% of independents. Add those numbers up, and the media’s insistence that we live in an age of doom and despair is swept easily into the public’s definition of (you guessed it!) Fake News.
Although much of the public is suffering from the fatigue of this constant anti-Trump bombardment, the result of which is that anything not overtly positive about the President is being ignored or (as Charles C. W. Cooke puts it) compartmentalized, the reality is that the media are overly restrictive in their approach to this problem. Look, the media are basically splitting hairs over the wording, whereas the public are dismissing swaths of stories. And given a choice, the Czar thinks the public has got it entirely correct: it doesn’t matter if the stories are probably true; if they aren’t 100% perfectly true, they no longer count.
A recent example is illustrative: did President Trump refer to numerous countries as “shitholes?” The media certainly think so, and they have a confirmed source: Senator Dick Durbin. Is this believeable? Certainly. Is this probably true? With Trump, very much so. Is it likely the case? The Czar would say, all things being equal, yes.
But did it happen? The problem is that the only source of this story is Dick Durbin, who—if you know him—is a frequent liar. Plus, numerous people present at the alleged event concur—with some consistency—that the President said no such thing, and that Senator Durbin clearly heard something else.
Interesting; however, the public have already dismissed the entire thing as Fake News. Why? Because at least one person here is lying, and the media can’t seem to seem to explain why. Instead, the media favor the more colorful version, the one they like better. And so Americans stop caring because the media have stopped caring.
Democracy can indeed die in darkness; but if you want a more enlightening phrase, get out your Latin texts and consider the age-old question of quis custodiet ipsos custodes.