According to respectable journalists, President Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, beclowned himself already. Not by the ill-fitting suit he wore, but by declaring that the inauguration drew the “”largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.”
Granted, the pathological grandiosity has grown tiresome, even if it makes for fun internet memes. Nobody, obviously, is buying.
Oh, wait. That was the Women’s March. My bad.
In case you’re wondering, all those guys with their backs turned to the motorcade are on overtime. Better safe than sorry.
So it begins with the press secretary chastising the media for not telling the narrative the new president prefers. This isn’t exactly news, given that the campaign’s relationship to facts hasn’t been warm and close. But here, Spicer’s nailed to the wall.
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
The job of presidential press secretary is to proffer the administration’s narrative. When, as here, he says something flagrantly nonsensical, the price is paid in his credibility. If Sean Spicer is willing to tell the White House media something as ridiculous as this, then he cannot be believed. If he isn’t believed, he can’t sell the narrative.
He chortled in his joy.
But that’s only half the equation of media, of informing the public of what, in fact, is happening. Over the course of the campaign, media outlets sold their soul to the devil in the name of advocacy journalism. They, too, had a narrative to sell, and they sold and sold in the hope that the groundlings would defer to the media elite, the clueless peasants would heed the wise words of those deemed worthy of the pages of newspapers and magazines.
To some extent, it’s not the media’s fault. They may seem elite from a distance, standing atop a soapbox built long before we were born that maintains legacy credibility. They call the New York Times the Gray Lady, the Paper of Record. If there is a Fourth Estate, that’s where it lives.
But what you read doesn’t come from an old soapbox, but the sticky fingers of writers, some of whom are knowledgeable and trustworthy, but many of whom have yet to buy their first razor because the peach fuzz has yet to grow bristly. They learned their craft at J-Schools, where they were taught how to write an article, but never taught how to grasp what they’re writing about.
It’s not that they are lying, which implies the deliberate use of false information. Some do, perhaps, but most believe what they write to be true. And that’s the problem, that their view of facts is dictated by their beliefs. At worst, it should be the other way around. At best, their beliefs should play no role in their writing. Just the facts, ma’am.
This isn’t a new invention. As any lawyer who has had a high-profile case knows too well, the media’s reporting, even if it wants to be accurate, becomes bogged down in inaccuracy and mythology. I learned this in the 80s, when every mention of the screwdriver possessed by my client, Troy Canty, was prefaced by the adjective “sharpened.” It wasn’t sharpened. It was just an ordinary screwdriver. But the myth took hold and there was no stopping it.
But there is a difference between reporting things one fails to grasp, like when a crime story includes the maximum punishment available for the 32 counts of an indictment by aggregating the total number of potential years, and highlighting the details that convey what the writer feels you need to know. The former is unfortunate. The latter is shameless. Shame isn’t one of the emotions regularly felt lately. It’s been overcome by other passions.
So if we have a press secretary with a tenuous relationship to reality, and a media living off the credibility of ghosts, whom can we believe? Who isn’t trying to sell us their narrative?
While the media has, with good reason, taken Sean Spicer to task for this public display of absurdity, it has yet to come to grips with its own failings. There are, of course, good journalists who are knowledgeable in their sphere and try very hard to be accurate. There are journalists who aspire to be knowledgeable and accurate, although their reliance on “experts” is often as misguided and deceptive as Spicer’s reliance on generic information via the National Parks Service.
It’s astounding how often I get a call from a reporter from a legit media outlet asking a question that informs me that the reporter hasn’t got the slightest clue what he’s writing about. They call to get a quote, a sound-bite, that will back up the story they’ve already written.
I try to explain, as neutrally as possible, the background law about which they know nothing, so that they can start from a foundation of knowledge rather than their flight of fantasy, their reddit-quality knowledge of law. They pretend to give a damn, but really just want a ten-word quote because they have a deadline. I’m uncooperative. I’m not giving them what they need, and instead boring them with facts.
`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
When I read the story by the reporter with whom I spoke, I more often shake my head and wonder why I bother to take time from my day. It’s a shame that the media doesn’t strive harder for accuracy. It’s a shame that they let their beliefs guide their grasp of facts. And in light of Sean Spicer’s outing himself as an incredible shill, it’s a shame that the media has forsaken its credibility in the effort to prevent the election of Donald Trump.