In the face of Trump’s gas-lighting, journalists are struggling mightily to report Joe Biden’s accurate warnings about the authoritarian threat Trump poses.
With Biden and Trump now headed toward a potential 2020 rematch, both are talking about the same event in very different ways and offering framing they believe gives them an advantage. The dueling narratives reflect how an attack that disrupted the certification of the election is increasingly viewed differently along partisan lines — and how Trump has bet that the riot won’t hurt his candidacy.
In a WaPo story chronicling how Trump has trained the GOP to love insurrection, Isaac Arnsdorf and Trump-whisperer Josh Dawsey allowed propagandist Julie Kelly to complain about her portrayal without ever noting a number of persistent lies she tells — about which January 6 defendants are held in pre-trial detention, how they’re treated there, and the number of people charged with assault.
“I was being considered an outlier, to put it nicely,” Kelly said in an interview. “Conspiracy theorist or whack job, to put it more accurately, how I was portrayed.”
It described Tucker Carlson at length without describing the depths of his lies (nor the overproduced propaganda piece he did for the first anniversary). It referred to Nazi Timothy Hale-Cusanelli’s views as simple “notoriety for wearing a Hitler-style mustache.” The only thing it affirmatively identified as false is the claim no rioters had guns (and focuses on Darren Beattie’s “conspiracy theory” about Ray Epps rather than his fabricated claims that Thomas Caldwell’s devoted spouse was instead an FBI informant who framed him. In short, it repeated the Big Lie about the Big Lie as an interesting political development, not something it has responsibility to debunk.
Then there’s the NYTimes, in a piece by Michael Bender, Lisa Lerer and Michael Gold. It seems to be a genuine attempt at cataloging Trump’s “brazen” attempt to “cast Mr. Biden as the true menace,” the subhead of the piece.
But it proceeded to quote just 31 words of what it calls Joe Biden’s “forceful” speech, before it aired:
- A 13-word false quote from Trump about his prosecution
- 30 words of projection from Trump, attacking Biden
- A 20-word false attack on Jack Smith
- 11 more words lying about DOJ, quoted from a Trump fundraising email
- Trump’s 3 word celebration of January 6 and another word rebranding convicted Jan6ers
- 36 words from Trump’s campaign managers attacking Biden (a statement the AP also quoted)
- In an attempt to label all this projection, Trump’s 5-word attack on Hillary Clinton
- A 3-word attack on Biden that Trump uses in rally signage
- 28 words of attack on DOJ from Marjorie Taylor Greene
- 21 words from a Trump supporter at a rally
And they did so in an article talking about the import of focusing on democracy, not on Trump’s false claims about it.
Even including a 33-word quote from Josh Shapiro about how Pennsylvanians have learned to see through Trump’s bullshit and 30 words about the threat of violence, NYT still quoted Trump or his supporters’ false attacks on Biden and rule of law almost twice as much as they did true claims about Trump.
Effectively, it rewarded Trump for telling “audacious” lies. By telling them, he got three NYT journalists to quote his lies about Joe Biden and rule of law over and over and over.
The reason Trump projects his own failures on other people is because journalists never fail to reward him for it, presenting his false claims alongside true ones, leaving the impression that truth is up for debate, that professionals are helpless to discern which of these claims are true.
Trump’s goal is to degrade the very notion of truth. And this kind of journalism only helps him do that.
Update: After I wrote this, NYT changed the headline of this piece, from “Clashing Over Jan. 6, Trump and Biden Show Reality Is at Stake in 2024,” to “Trump Signals an Election Year Full of Falsehoods on Jan. 6 and Democracy.”