The U.S. Media Is Completely Unprepared to Cover a Trump Presidency

Donald Trump and his surrogates have shown an uncanny ability to lie in the face of objective facts. They will now have the power of the federal government to help them.

.. Judith Miller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter whose front-page storyabout the aluminum tubes bolstered the case for war in Iraq explained: “My job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Timeswhat the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.”

.. The first reason is that political journalism is highly dependent on official sources, which are chased with abandon. Miller’s defense of stenography seems absurd in hindsight, but there is a grain of truth in it. Government sources are granted a high degree of credibility, and official lies can be difficult to dispute. Contrary leaks from highly placed sources can offer an important check on the official story, but the breadth of the surveillance state built by Bush and Obama, a surveillance state now in Trump’s hands, will make such leaks difficult.

.. The total Republican control of government means that Democrats will struggle to get their objections to carry much weight, much as they did prior to the Iraq War.

.. During George W. Bush’s absurd war pageantry in May 2003, Matthews remarked that Bush looked like a “high-flying jet star,” and that Bush “won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics.” The Iraq War is arguably still ongoing.

The Matthews episode illustrates that in addition to reporting itself being manipulated, members of the media themselves engaged in careful brand-management exercises in order to portray themselves as in touch with “Real America,” granting themselves permission to dismiss criticisms of the Bush administration as the ravings of pampered liberal elites.

.. Adversarial coverage of the Bush administration notably increased once his approval ratings dipped so low that media figures felt as though they were reflecting public opinion when they criticized him.

.. With Trump, the United States has elected a president who has shown a complete disregard for free speech, arguing that his detractors do not have a “right” to criticize him. He believes the First Amendment’s protections for the press are too strong. He has a thirst for vengeance against those whom he perceives as having wronged him, and now he has the power of the federal government to pursue his vendettas.

.. The temptation to accept the Trump administration’s unreality—particularly given increased distrust of the media and his ability to insulate his base from the truth—will be tremendous. His ability to use the powers of the federal government to bolster his dishonesty will magnify his powers of deception a thousandfold.