It’s time to Break It Down!
The exigencies of TrumpWorld are often disorienting. However, that’s just the way things work in/with the current administration. Or, as the Washington Post framed it this past weekend: “Scoop. Denial. Scoop confirmed. That’s business as usual for writers covering the Trump White House.”
As America zips like an unpredictably wayward shooting star, from one Trump inspired saga to the next imbroglio, to whatever follows, we are challenged to maintain some fundamental sense of social equilibrium. The man most recently elected President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, has cultivated and highly refined a knack for what I like to call establishing a false flag narrative. For example, he vociferously declares a premise to be fake news one day, then subsequently, whether a day, a week, or some other undetermined later timeframe, reverses course. That’s pretty much the general idea.
According to the New York Times, the paper had a big scoop earlier this month. Based upon its sources, the paper reported that President Trump was considering re-staffing the legal team serving as his counsel in the investigation conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller, regarding whether Russia interfered with our 2016 election.
But wait! Enter the predictably unpredictable wayward shooting star, D.J. Trump. Within hours of the story’s release, Mr. Trump challenged the veracity of the story. He tweeted:
“The Failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong. I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job. . . . The writer of the story, Maggie Haberman, a Hillary flunky, knows nothing about me and is not given access.”
Classic Trump. Classic false flag narrative. As it turned out, this story, and a second one earlier this week (Last week now) updating Trump’s legal search turned out to be, shall we say, in a word, accurate. Last Thursday, Trump’s lead attorney, John Dowd, resigned three days after Trump added Joseph diGenova, a former federal prosecutor and sometimes Fox News commentator, to his legal team.
During the previous week, the Washington Post broke some news about a pending shakeup among White House advisers. Sources held that Trump had decided to remove national security adviser H.R. McMaster. A few hours later, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders flatly rejected the very idea.
“Just spoke to @POTUS and Gen. H.R. McMaster – contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes” at the National Security Council,” she tweeted.
That denial stood up for a week, until last Thursday when the White House announced McMaster’s departure (UNC Ph. D.) and the President named his replacement in the name of former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, not surprisingly, also a periodic Fox News commentator. Fox News is trending as a major supplier of staff members to the Trump administration. Who knew they had such hefty HR chops?
Of course the White House has it’s own rationalization. Officials contend it’s possible for events to change quickly, and a denial at one moment is, in fact, an accurate and truthful reflection of the immediate state of play. Until the president actually makes a decision, they say, a news story projecting the course of events can be speculative and even inaccurate. They add it is particularly true of personnel decisions because new events can intervene, undermining the President’s previous confidence in a top aide.
To make that point, one administration official alluded to President Obama’s expression of confidence in his embattled veterans affairs secretary, Eric K Shinseki, in May 2014. However, later in the same month, under mounting pressure and criticism of Shinseki from Congress, President Obama reversed course and accepted Shinseki’s resignation.
Also in support of the administration’s position, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in an interview that reporters have their own form of denial – by speculating about events and then never correcting the record when things don’t pan out, as they were first described. He added:
“I’ve seen plenty of reports saying so-and-so is going to be out by the end of the week, and then so-and-so is still there a few months later. No one admits they got it wrong.”
The arguments in favor of the administration notwithstanding, last week’s stories from The NYT and WP suggest that Trump’s penchant for claiming fake news just doesn’t hold water. Frequently, the news isn’t fake, just inconvenient, and ill timed from the White House’s point of view.
As a result, some White House reporters view the administration’s denials of otherwise well-sourced information with healthy skepticism.
Peter Baker, a veteran NYT reporter viewed it this way:
“Unfortunately, this happens often enough that reporters have learned that we can’t trust the denials. It doesn’t help anyone when reporters have to assume that what the White House tells us may not be true or that a White House statement will prove inoperative just days or even hours later.”
Maggie Haberman, who with Mr. Baker, co-wrote the stories about Trump’s legal team, reacted to Trump’s denials with what amounted to the verbal equivalent of a sigh.
“He denied (the two stories) both times,” she tweeted on Thursday. “It all stems from him. People can focus on staff and I certainly have, but at the end of the day it’s the president who runs things this way and makes the choices to deny true stories and attempt to confuse people.”
The denial tactic is an enduring staple of the Trump administration. As the post-election transition ensued, a spokesman denied a Washington Post report that General Jim Mattis would be his nominee for secretary of defense; Trump confirmed it within hours at a public appearance. In October, the White House denied a Post story that Trump would decertify the Iran nuclear agreement as not in the national interest. Surprise…he ended up doing so.
Some have speculated that all this could just be Trump’s mechanism for confusing an issue and playing to his eager-to-believe-anything-he-says-base. Reporters have surmised that Trump sometimes employs denials to maintain an orderly calm until it’s no longer possible to do so. In fact, some outlets reported Thursday that Trump was angry that Bolton walked through the White House’s front gate and was spotted by reporters, thereby spoiling a big “reveal.”
The mere introduction of something that turns out to be false into our information system means that it’s out there, and the vast majority of people will never hear the correction. Nikki Usher, an associate professor in the school of media and public affairs at George Washington University said:
“Even introducing something that turns out to be false into our information system means that it’s out there, and the vast majority of people will never hear the correction. Or if they do hear the correction and acknowledge it to be factually accurate, we now know this doesn’t even matter because their enduring partisanship remains. It is the best tactic, actually, to introduce false information into the news ecosystem because most people will never notice that it has been corrected. If they do, they’ll find reasons to dismiss the correction as insignificant, leaving their underlying support intact.”
When all is said and done, don’t be discouraged when Trump cries fake news; relax, exhale, and before you know it, it will simply be news. “Fake News: Oops, Just Make That News!”
I’m done; holla back!
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