Among the many political truisms suddenly transformed to falsisms by the magic of Trump is the one about never picking a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. Variously attributed to Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill (of course) and Tommy Lasorda, this saying used to be invoked every time another politician fell foul of it by trying to take on the media for their ill-treatment of him and quickly discovered how little public outrage at his own victimization there was for him to tap into. Mostly these were Republicans, whose complaints about the mee-jah, however justified, have never done them any good with voters and only served to increase the media’s already fervent hostility to themselves.
But Mr Trump appears to have engaged in a little of his celebrated public relations ju-jitsu in turning the tables on the media. Now it is they who are shaking their fists in apoplectic (and apocalyptic) anger at their own mistreatment in the hopes of exciting popular outrage against the new president — most recently over a news conference in which, as the New York Times headline put it, "With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout and Intelligence Rift." Their rage was then compounded when Kellyanne Conway went on "Meet the Press" with a bland assurance that the administration was relying on "alternative facts" — i.e. alternative to the ones that the media were reporting.
Well, you’d think that it was time for them to trot out their fabled "World Ends" headlines. "The traditional way of reporting on a president is dead. And Trump’s press secretary killed it," headlined the Washington Post this morning. "Some journalists, afterward, sounded stunned at what had transpired," wrote the Post’s media columnist Margaret Sullivan.
But nothing about this should shock. Anyone — citizen or journalist — who is surprised by false claims from the new inhabitant of the Oval Office hasn’t been paying attention. That was reinforced when Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told "Meet the Press" Sunday that Spicer had been providing "alternative facts" to what the media had reported, making it clear we’ve gone full Orwell.
Isn’t that just it, however? It doesn’t shock. And her avowal of these "stunned" journalists is itself the most arrant sort of fake news. Or alternative facts, if you prefer. She herself dragged Orwell in to the matter a couple of months ago when she wrote of how "The post-truth world of the Trump administration is scarier than you think." On the contrary, I beg leave to refer the Post and Ms Sullivan to my firm belief that the post-truth world of the Trump administration is just exactly as scary as I think, and not one whit scarier — that, in fact, it is no scarier than the post-truth world of The Washington Post and its media confreres.
The more she repeats how scary it is, the less scary it seems — the more it becomes no more than a reiteration of her own and the rest of the groupthink media’s incandescent hatred for Mr Trump. Why should anyone bother to pay attention when all she does is repeat herself? Yes, we know you hate the man and consider him a liar, rogue and a deadbeat. So what? Having tried so often in the past to pass your opinion off as news, you can hardly pretend to be shocked when people treat your news as opinion.
I hope that at least some in the media are now beginning to realize what was wrong with their throwing out so many accusations of bad faith against Mr Trump over the past year and a half. In effect, Ms Sullivan and her fellow journos have immunized him against the charge, even when it is true. Also, as with political correctness, there is something recognizably false about all this outrage, all this taking offense. People not otherwise onboard with the media’s political project don’t for a minute believe they are shocked and horrified by the President’s cavalier attitude to the truth and his "alternative facts" — if only because they’ve heard it all, along with the now familiar Orwellian apocalypticism about it, so often before.