On New Year’s day, Wall Street Journal editor, Gerard Baker sparked a social media storm after saying on Meet the Press that he has instructed his paper’s journalists not to report Donald Trump’s lies as lies, but as “questionable,” or “challengeable” statements (1) (2).
The word “lie,” he said, implies a moral judgement, and opens the Journal to claims of bias. He cited Mr. Trump’s claim that “thousands” of Muslims celebrated 9/11 on New Jersey rooftops. To call that a “lie,” Baker claimed, would imply an intent to deceive, so the Journal reported instead that there was “no evidence” to support the allegations.
There are many obvious problems with this approach. No one with a pulse believes that Trump made an inadvertent mistake – his intent with this lie was to win the support of xenophobes, in one of the classic moves of would-be tyrants. Trump learned in his earlier “birther” rants that if you repeat a lie often enough, those who want to believe you will, and will rally to support your cause.
I our midterm election in 2018, we’ll have new voters who were a year old on 9/11, with no clear memory of the event. “No evidence” is too weak a rebuttal to our would-be dictator-in-chief, who unfortunately, is an expert on manipulating the news, and in a classic strategy tyrants before him continues his efforts to discredit legitimate news outlets (3) (4) (5).
The journalists had gathered on Meet the Press to discuss Mr. Trump’s attempts to discredit news he doesn’t approve of. You can read a full transcript of the session here (6) Not being sufficiently versed in history, Mr. Baker doesn’t realize that capitulation will not save him or his paper if Trump can manage to gain the power over news outlets, like “stronger libel laws,” that he craves.
Therefore, I’m awarding Gerard Baker of the Wall Street Journal, my first Wormtongue Award of 2017. This is the first, but I’m sure not the last, such award I’ll hand out…