Now and then journalists will resort to the L-word, “lie,” as The New York Times has done on occasion. Other frequent targets of the president’s disdain, CNN and MSNBC, have debunked his claims with onscreen headlines and endless panel discussions.
Such good-faith efforts, however, seem increasingly ineffectual. The president has succeeded in casting journalists as the prime foils on his never-ending reality show, much to the delight of those who cheer him on at rallies.
“He has succeeded in creating a daily narrative in which he is the central figure,” Steve Coll, the dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism and a staff writer at The New Yorker, told me. “And he uses props and invented opposition — whether they are migrants hundreds of miles from the U.S. border or the press right in front of him — to pursue this kind of idea he has about how his populism works.”
Mr. Trump’s communications director for 10 days, Anthony Scaramucci, was matter-of-fact when he told Bloomberg TV on Thursday, “Yes, the president is lying, but he’s doing it intentionally to incite certain people, which would include left-leaning journalists and most of the left-leaning politicians.”
By engaging with his ceaseless attacks and baseless claims, are journalists falling into a trap? That’s the view of Steven Pinker, a Harvard professor of cognitive science, who has described the president as a promoter of a “counter-Enlightenment ideology.” Even with its saturation coverage of the pipe bombs, Mr. Pinker argued on Twitter, “The press gets gamed again.”
In a telephone interview, he said the news media had read too much into the acts of one disturbed person. “It’s not a reflection, in itself, of the mood of the country,” Mr. Pinker said.
He conceded, though, that the media cannot ignore Mr. Trump. And there’s the conundrum. This president “speaks a lot and tweets a lot without his material being vigorously vetted, and there are many more factual inaccuracies that we have to deal with,” said Glenn Kessler, the longtime Fact Checker columnist at The Post.