The scourge of newsinessBy
Trump lies the way other people breathe. We’re used to politicians who stretch the truth, who waffle or dissemble, who emphasize some facts while omitting others. But I can’t think of any other political figure who so brazenly tells lie after lie, spraying audiences with such a fusillade of untruths that it is almost impossible to keep track. Perhaps he hopes the media and the nation will become numb to his constant lying. We must not.
Trouble is, it’s not just Trump. Like Billy Pilgrim, American readers have come unstuck from the truth. Human attention span now is less than that of a goldfish. Our capacity to discern truth from lies is about as keen. The Internet and social media are awash in newsy-looking websites featuring thin, unsourced “reportage” of questionable provenance — newsiness. But it’s easily digestible. As Jeff Goldblum said of his character’s job at People Magazine in The Big Chill, “I don’t write anything longer than what the average person can read during the average dump.” That makes web surfers easy prey for Donald Trumps and disinformation traffickers. When a friend shares a “well-researched” article, prepare for a fusillade of “facts” unsupported by a single link or original source reporting. Goldfish don’t check sources.
Neither will Trump’s fans. But journalists should. After citing a string of Trumpian nonsense from the past week, Robinson continues:
It goes against all journalistic instinct to write in a news article, as The Post did Monday, that Trump’s national security address was “a speech laden with falsehoods and exaggeration.” But I don’t think we’re doing our job if we simply report assertions of fact without evaluating whether they are factual.
Trump’s lies also present a challenge for voters. The normal assumption is that politicians will bend the truth to fit their ideology — not that they will invent fake “truth” out of whole cloth. Trump is not just an unorthodox candidate. He is an inveterate liar — maybe pathological, maybe purposeful. He doesn’t distort facts, he makes them up.
If Trump’s version of the truth fits his tribe’s preferred narrative, they will swallow the bait without a second thought. The threat newsiness poses is that we fall prey to the same “create our own reality” thinking of the right-wing exuberants who coined reality-based community as a term of derision for the left during the Iraq War. Robinson thinks we should be better than passing along newsiness and he’s right.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)