With Trump set to take control of the presidency, media figures are currently engaged in a spirited debate over how to handle the Trump administration’s approach to the news media, now that it looks likely he will continue employing the unprecedented levels of dishonesty he wielded to great effect during the campaign.
The early returns in this debate are not encouraging. In fact, they suggest that we in the news media are simply unprepared for the challenges the Trump presidency will pose to us. I’ve already tried to argue that news orgs are needlessly helping Trump’s use of unverified claims result in precisely the headlines he wants.
If we don’t call that “lying,” or if we don’t squarely and prominently label these claims as “false,” don’t we risk enabling Trump’s apparent efforts to obliterate the possibility of agreement on shared reality? We’re already seeing a preview of how this will work in practice when Trump is president. On multiple occasions, Trump has dubiously claimed credit for jobs he has supposedly “saved,” and the headlines have tended to reflect his claims without also informing readers that those claims are unverified or open to doubt. People don’t always take the time to learn the details. Even when they do, if news orgs don’t take a clear stand on what is true and what isn’t, confusion can often follow. New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet has come closer to getting this right, pointing out that we must label Trump’s lies as such because he has shown a willingness to go beyond the “normal sort of obfuscation that politicians traffic in.” Writer Masha Gessen has gone even further, suggesting that Trump’s approach to information — or disinformation — looks like a hallmark of Putinesque autocratic rule, in which the autocrat is trying to “assert power over truth itself,” and convey the message that his “power lies in being able to say what he wants.”
Yes, Donald Trump ‘lies.’ A lot. And news organizations should say so