Thursday, June 2, 2016

Trump’s Problem Isn’t the Press, It’s the Truth

The way Donald Trump explains it, he has a huge media problem.
Yet the press is not his real problem. The truth is.

The presumptive 2016 presidential nominee of the Republican Party has been on this tear for some time now — slamming the media in general as dishonest, certain news outlets in particular as liars and most recently one individual member of the national press corps as “sleaze.’’
“The media is really on a witch-hunt against me,’’ Trump tweeted in the middle of May. “False reporting, and plenty of it — but we will prevail.’’
This line of attack has proven as successful for the star of “Reality Television” as his relentless social media campaigns and stage-crafting of direct insults at people who cross him — Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who cites native Americans among her family lineage, is “Pocahontas,” and the federal judge handling the class-action lawsuit over alleged fraud against students at Trump University is a “Mexican.’’

This serves to deflect any criticism the candidate confronts in the realtime of 24/7 cable news or streaming social media. This week, Trump turned questions about why he’d only started writing big charity checks to veterans’ groups as promised in January after the Washington Post asked him about it recently into an attack on the media asking these impertinent questions.
In the most audacious of his defenses, Trump has summarized his reasoning for failing to release his personal income tax returns in one direct statement to reporters: “It’s none of your business.’’

Yet his record of misstating historical facts and figures and misrepresenting even publicly available data such as polling about the women who “love me,’’ even as the Democratic Party’s likely nominee stomps him in polling of women in general, has earned him PolitiFact’s 2015 “Lie of the Year” award. (They’ve only won a Pulitzer Prize for their fact-checking — “Losers!”)
Trump also possesses an offensive penchant for saying that he’s not about to say something even as he proceeds to say it. Asked about Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, comparing Trump’s plans for deporting millions of immigrants to the Kristallnacht of Nazi Germany, Trump told the New York Times through a spokeswoman: “I don’t talk about his alcoholism, so why would he talk about my foolishly perceived fascism?”
The candidate who has turned conventional campaigning on its head started with the basic unpopularity of the American media itself — the very media to which Americans immediately turn when a criminal calamity or natural disaster seizes cable news headlines. This is especially effective with his core supporters, white men who finished their schooling short of college, and Republicans inclined to view the media as elite, liberal sympathizers.
There’s also been an erosion in recent years in public confidence in the media, most notably among younger Americans. In 2010, four-in-ten Millennials said the national media were having a positive impact on the way things are going in the country. In January, the Pew Research Center reported, just 27 percent of Millennials held this view — bringing them closer in line with Gen Xers (26 percent positive) and Baby Boomers (23 percent.)
Among other major institutions in American society, the media rank relatively low in public confidence. Last year, Gallup found 42 percent of Americans holding a great deal of confidence in the military, the highest, 25 percent in the church or organized religion, 16 percent in the presidency, 14 percent the Supreme Court, 12 percent the banks, 10 percent newspapers and television news — and nine percent in big business.
Yet there’s no institution in America that is better equipped to dispassionately lay out the facts, as best as they can be determined, when fiction starts flying in an American political campaign. And it’s flying.

“There is no drought,’’ Trump recently reported of his meeting with California farmers, in a state where snowpacks that provide one third of the water consumed by cities and farms stand at 29 percent of their normal levels, the last two years hottest on record. “If I win, believe me, we’re going to start opening up the water so that you can have your farmers survive.’’
There is no gender-gap either, in the world according to Trump.
Democrat Hillary Clinton, her party’s most likely nominee, is “playing the woman card,’’ Trump has claimed. “And if she didn’t play the woman card, she would have no chance whatsoever of winning.’’
While Trump may have performed well among women in his party’s primaries — winning 57 percent of them in his home-state New York — match-ups against Clinton in general-election polling tell a different story: The former secretary of state, New York senator and first lady holding an average 19-percentage point advantage over the New York developer.

And certainly Trump is doing more to endear himself by tweeting about “Goofy Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas.’’
This is a candidate for the nation’s highest office who plays fast and loose with historical facts — telling of the “thousands’’ of terrorist sympathizers in Jersey City on Sept. 11, 2001, seen “cheering as that building was coming down.’’
“It was on television. I saw it,’’ Trump said of something never documented in any media. The Associated Press, on Sept. 17, 2001, called “rumors of rooftop celebrations of the attack by Muslims’’ in Jersey City “unfounded.’’ Another rumor centered on Paterson, N.J., stemmed from emails recycled by radio shock jock Howard Stern.
In a Republican debate earlier this year, Trump said the families of some 9/11 hijackers were allowed to leave the U.S. days before the attacks — presumably returning home to Saudi Arabia. The Report of the 9/11 Commission found that none of the hijackers had any family members in the U.S. in the days before the attacks.
In a debate in March, the billionaire businessman stated that the nation’s Gross Domestic Product “was zero, essentially, for the last two quarters.’’ The American economy actually grew at an annual rate of one percent in the fourth quarter of 2015, and two percent in the third quarter of 2015, according to the Commerce Department.
Trump even misstates his own previous statements. When Fox Business Network’s Neil Cavuto pressed him on his proposal for a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports, Trump replied: “Well, I don’t have a 45 — I’m just saying, I’m just saying that we have to take a tough stance on China because I never said — I don’t even know where the 45 percent came from.’’
As the Times noted, “the 45 percent figure came from Mr. Trump himself.’’
In a taped meeting with the editorial board on Jan. 6, Trump was asked what he would do as president to exert pressure on China. “I would tax China coming in — products coming in. I would do a tariff,’’ he said. “I would do a tax, and the tax — let me tell you what the tax should be. The tax should be 45 percent.”
Trump’s general approach to the Times, the pre-eminent American newspaper, is to call it “sad.” And this week, as he trashed reporters in general amidst their questioning of his veterans’ charity, Trump was asked if this is the sort of approach to the media that we might expect from his White House, if he’s elected president. He said: “Yeah, it is.”
PolitiFact, which tracks the “Pants-on-Fire’’ misstatements of politicians, ranks statements on a simple scale, with ample documentation. Last year, it rated 42 percent of Trump statements it checked as false, 16 percent mostly false, 15 percent half-true, 6 percent mostly true and 2 percent true.
Then, Trump was still being described at that Web site as a “real estate developer, entrepreneur and host of the NBC reality show, ‘The Apprentice.’’’ Today, he is being described as the GOP’s presumed nominee. And his own Twitter shorthand for his likely opponent is “Crooked Hillary.’’

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