America Is Too Dumb for TV News
Donald Trump said this to supporters at an Alabama rally:
“Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”
It was a hell of a revelation. Where did this witnessing take place? Was he standing on the Hoboken terminal clock tower? George Stephanopoulus challenged Trump on this on ABC’s This Week, noting that police said nothing like that happened.
TRUMP: It did happen. I saw it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You saw that…
TRUMP: It was on television. I saw it.
Until recently, the narrative of stories like this has been predictable. If a candidate said something nuts, or seemingly not true, an army of humorless journalists quickly dug up all the facts, and the candidate ultimately was either vindicated, apologized, or suffered terrible agonies.
Al Gore for instance never really recovered from saying, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” True, he never said he invented the Internet, as is popularly believed, but what he did say was clumsy enough that the line followed him around like an STD for the rest of his (largely unsuccessful) political life.
That dynamic has broken down this election season. Politicians are quickly learning that they can say just about anything and get away with it. Along with vindication, apology and suffering, there now exists a fourth way forward for the politician spewing whoppers: Blame the backlash on media bias and walk away a hero.
This season has seen an explosion of such episodes. Carly Fiorina, in a nationally televised debate, claimed to have watched a nonexistent video of evil feminists harvesting fetal brains. Ben Carson has been through a half-dozen factual dustups, including furious debates over whether or not he stabbed someone and whether or not he once won $10 for being the only honest student in an (apparently nonexistent) Yale psychology class.
Trump, meanwhile, has been through more of these beefs than one can count, even twice blabbing obvious whoppers in live televised debates. Once he claimed the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to help China, moving Rand Paul to point out that China isn’t in the TPP. Another time he denied that he once called Marco Rubio “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator.” The line was on Trump’s website as he spoke.
In all of these cases, the candidates doubled or tripled down when pestered by reporters and fact-checkers and insisted they’d been victimized by biased media. A great example of how candidates have handled this stuff involved Fiorina.
The former HP chief keeps using a roundly debunked line originally dug up by the Romney campaign, about how 92 percent of the jobs lost under Obama belonged to women. The Romney campaign itself ditched the line because it was wrong even in 2012. When confronted this year, Fiorina simply said, “If the liberal media doesn’t like the data, maybe the liberal media doesn’t like the facts.”