Entry from January 26, 2017

Nobody at The New York Times or The Washington Post has made an announcement about those papers’ decision to treat opinion as fact under the Trump régime, at least not that I am aware of — unless you count Jim Rutenberg’s front page, signed editorial in The Times of last August  advocating journalistic advocacy against presidential candidate Donald Trump. But Mr Rutenberg did not, on that occasion, go on to demand that factual news should give way to opinion in mounting political resistance to a President Trump, should he happen to win the presidency. Perhaps he thought this so unlikely, given the immense influence of himself and his Times colleagues — and all the journalists with other media who he knew would follow their lead in campaigning against such an eventuality — that this didn’t need to be said.

If so, it has become pretty obvious that the institutional media continue to follow, more or less without inhibition, the same open anti-Trump bias in reporting the news now that he is president. A few days ago in this space, I mentioned the outbreak of manufactured media hysteria over Kellyanne Conway’s "alternative facts" — something that could never have happened if the media had remembered in time their own habit of treating opinion as alternative fact. On that occasion I noticed the fondness of Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post for analogies to George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-four, although Orwell did not, so far as I can remember, use the expression "alternative facts." But that has not stopped Kimiko De Freytas-Tamura of The New York Times from taking the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon with a report that "George Orwell’s ‘1984’ [sic] Is Suddenly a Best-Seller."

In defending a false claim [writes Ms. De Freytas-Tamura] by the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, that Mr. Trump had attracted the "largest audience ever to witness an inauguration," Ms. Conway used a turn of phrase that struck some observers as similar to the dystopian world of "1984."

But why the fig-leaf of "struck some observers" when she is so shockingly (to some observers) straightforward about the alleged falseness of the claim? I guess old journalistic habits die hard. See also today’s headline in the Washington Post to a story by Sari Horwitz and Jenna Johnson: "Voting rights advocates fear Trump’s unfounded fraud claims will lead to more restrictive laws." Come now! Admit it. It’s not just "voting rights advocates" is it? You fear it a little bit yourselves, don’t you, WaPo editors? Why be shy about it when you are so bold as to report Mr Trump’s claims as "unfounded"?

Ms De Freytas-Tamura of the Times isn’t taking anything for granted about her readers’ familiarity with the newly re-popular novel by George Orwell and what connection it might be supposed to have to a certain billionaire president.

In the novel, the term "newspeak" refers to language in which independent thought, or "unorthodox" political ideas, have been eliminated. "Doublethink" is defined as "reality control."

But wouldn’t someone from outside media-world look at that sentence and think: "Wait a minute. You mean by this analogy to suggest that Donald Trump is the one suppressing independent thought and unorthodox ideas?" Surely not even the chutzpah of The New York Times can be up to the task of making out that anyone other than the Times itself, albeit with methods somewhat more humane than Big Brother’s, is the chief enforcer of political orthodoxy in our time? Perhaps its updated version of news-speak has eliminated even its own ability to recognize so elementary a fact.


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