The strange alliance that has emerged between even Trump-supporting Republican elites and a critical press corps has been nurtured by Trump’s bizarre conspiracy theories and his baldfaced lies, which offend and unnerve both sides.
“The things Trump says are demonstrably false in a way that’s abnormal for politicians,” says the Atlantic’s James Fallows, who wrote the book Why Americans Hate the Media. “When he says he got a letter from the NFL on the debates and then the NFL says, ‘No, he didn’t,’ it emboldens the media to treat him in a different way.”
Politicians are not fully truthful. Everyone knows that. But they make a basic effort at being, as Stephen Colbert put it, truthy. The statistics they cite are usually in the neighborhood of correct. The falsehoods they offer are crafted through the careful omission of fact rather than the inclusion of falsehood. They may say things journalists know are wrong — climate change denial is a constant among Republican officeholders — but they protect themselves by wrapping their arguments in well-constructed controversy or appealing to hand-selected experts.
This is part of how political reporting operates. Politicians are allowed to be wrong, but they can’t lie. Trump just lies.
Press critic Jay Rosen has an interesting perspective on this. What Trump is doing, he says, is journalism in reverse. “The birth certificate is a good example,” he says. “When you take a fact verified as fully as it can be in journalism, like Obama was born in the United States, and you say it’s not true, it’s a lie, energy is released by that. You can use that energy to power a campaign. But that offends journalism because it reverses it. It takes something that’s been nailed down and introduces doubt about it to release controversy and chaos.”
Trump flouts the epistemological basis of contemporary political discourse — his taste for conspiracy theories, his unwillingness to back off from clear falsehoods, and the seemingly effortless and needless nature of his lying (what purpose did saying he had received a letter from the NFL complaining about the debate schedule even serve?) have opened a yawning gap between the candidate and the people who cover him.
Ezra Klein, “The media vs. Donald Trump: why the press feels so free to criticize the Republican nominee”, Vox (16 August 2016) [http://www.vox.com/2016/8/16/12484644/media-donald-trump]