Media: Tell the Bleeping Truth

As I already wrote, Trump got a big boost out of the Singapore Summit when people were told, in headlines and chryons, the next morning that North Korea had agreed to denuclearize, which was no where close to the truth. The details and caveats that trickled out later would only have been noticed by politics nerds paying close attention.

Fareed Zacharia writes that the real headline should have been  “U.S. weakens its 70-year alliance with South Korea.”

The most striking elements of Trump’s initiative were not simply that he lavished praise on North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, but also that he announced the cancellation of military exercises with South Korea, adopting North Korea’s own rhetoric by calling them “provocative.”

The president must have missed his briefing. In fact, it is North Korea that provokes and threatens South Korea, as it has done since it first invaded the South in 1950. North Korea is thought to have about 1 million active-duty troops, almost twice as many as the South, and it has constructed perhaps as many as 20 tunnels to possibly mount a surprise invasion. North Korea also has more than 6,000 pieces of artillery that can reach South Korea, including some whose range is so long that they endanger 32.5 million people, more than half the country’s population, according to a study by the Rand Corp. The Defense Department estimated in 2006 that if North Korea opened artillery fire on the South, 250,000 people would be killed in Seoul alone, the Rand study notes. Of course, about a decade later, North Korea now has up to 60 nuclear bombs, complete with the missiles to deliver them. South Korea’s “war games” with the United States are necessary defensive exercises undertaken in the shadow of an aggressive adversary.

Even worse, Trump signaled that he would like to end the U.S. troop presence in South Korea. He is wrong that this would save money, unless he plans to demobilize the troops — which would mean cutting the United States’ active-duty forces, the opposite of his policy. Since South Korea covers almost half the costs of U.S. troops stationed there, moving them to, say, Georgia would not be cheaper. But that’s beside the point. Through bitter experience, the United States has found that it is much better to have troops ready, battle-trained and with knowledge of the local geography rather than keeping them all in the United States, only to be sent abroad when trouble breaks out.

But Fareed Zacharia can shout this from the rooftops all he likes; the American people were told that North Korea is doing to denuclearize, and that’s all most of them will ever hear.

Major media outlets: You still have people on your staffs with in depth knowledge of the news events you cover, or at least I assume you do. Why not let them write the headlines and chryons? Or at least have them review what the junior staffers are doing before it’s made public?

See also We Are in a Linguistic Emergency When It Comes to Trump.

Update: Greg Sargent, How the conventions of political journalism help spread Trump’s lies

The report’s core finding is that the FBI’s decision not to prosecute Clinton was untainted by bias or politics. This lays waste to one of the most important narratives pushed by President Trump and his allies in the quest to undermine special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation by claiming law enforcement is riddled with anti-Trump corruption.

But in many of this morning’s accounts about the report, you find versions of this additional claim: The IG report nonetheless provides fodder and ammunition to Trump and his allies to discredit Mueller’s probe.

Trump’s allies have widely cited the inspector general’s findings about the now-infamous texts between an FBI agent and lawyer — which do show animus towards Trump’s candidacy — as not just proof of anti-Trump bias at the FBI during the Clinton investigation, but also to bolster Trump’s argument that the Mueller probe into Russia-Trump campaign collusion is suspect.

Many news accounts inadvertently grant these arguments credibility, not just by quoting them, but also by claiming as fact that the conduct in question actually does lend support to those arguments. Yes, they also convey that the inspector general’s overall conclusion undercuts the Trumpian narrative. But the straddle itself is the problem. It showcases a convention often relied upon in political journalism — the use of the “lends fodder” formulation to float false claims alongside true ones — that has to go.

Do read the whole thing.

3 thoughts on “Media: Tell the Bleeping Truth

  1. The truth might be nice, indeed. For just a moment step away from whatever your normal political sensibilities are and consider: the leader of the world's only superpower just seemingly agreed to stop parading the most expensive military in the world by far not far away from a tiny tinpot dictatorship. Ok, resume your right wing* warmongering at your leisure.

    Also in the name of truth, the IG report seems to ignore that the White House (that last one; no not the pre-1814 fire one, the last president) gave the thumbs down to telling America that the FBI was investigating Trump but the thumbs up to the Clinton reveal. Hmm. Comey protecting Obama doesn't seem like insubordination to me but I'm no Fed.

    * We have both kinds of right wing warmongering, Republican and Democratic! Yee haw!

  2. Nobody is saying how the summit should have been conducted. Here's my take, and I'm no authority.

    1) The US flag should have NEVER been displayed with the North Korean flag. Not while the country is classed by the UN as one of the worst dictatorships in the world. Talk, yes. Give cover – NO.

    2) The US president should have promised up front that here would be NO joint news conference and no pictures. Not for a signed deal – maybe after the agreements are in the process of being executed. The message should be – No use of the picture of the POTUS for propaganda?

    Why would they meet under these conditions? Only for peace, for security, for an easing of sanctions, coupled with action, not rhetoric.

    The reality-show presidency played the media like a fiddle. North Korea played Trump like a fish.  Democrats were unwilling to look petty by declaring up front what the conditions should have been – and still are standing around making vague criticisms.

  3. Use of the word "fodder" here reminds me of a subtle joke in the 1st Star Wars Prequel.  A nasty character insults Anakin in an alien language, clearly using the phrase "Banta poodoo"; the sub-titled translation appears as "Banta fodder", when every sentient being in the galaxy with the vocabulary of a normal human 5-year-old knows that "poodoo" refers to what comes out of the back end of a Banta, not what goes in the front end.

    It looks like the media outlets that Greg Sargent refers to made the same mistake in translating the IFG report from the original Bureaucratese. This interpretation also explains the weaponization of the poodoo in the phrase "the IG report… provides fodder and ammunition to Trump…". 

    But yes, it sure would be real nice to see finally a headline saying "Trump Flings Poo Again".


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