It’s one of the most famous saying in American history (whether Lincoln said it, as reported, or not):
You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
True, and wise.
However, if you stop to think about it, the success of a “fool the people” gambit rests on how many of the people you can fool how much of the time. And—unless you can fake sincerity very well—to be really, really good at it, sometimes it helps to be able to fool yourself.
The press coverage of Trump’s first week as president (seems like a lot longer, doesn’t it?) has been an almost unrelieved litany of horrors. There are certainly things to criticize; for example, I think Trump would have done much better to have talked with the Mexican leader before taking a hard line in public. But—as someone who’s been hard on Trump myself—I find the coverage to have been abysmal and deceptive way too often (here’s a pretty good Vox analysis of one example).
The press has often been able to fool enough people enough of the time to make them want to continue doing so. What’s more, some of the people fooled work for the press. In other words, to someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To those who think Trump is evil incarnate, everything he does is evil.
But at a certain point people get tired of it. At a certain point, the “some” of the people you can fool may start to be a smaller number. Has that point been reached?
Two pieces today at Powerline by John Hinderaker make an interesting juxtaposition on the subject. First we have a post entitled “Press pretends to fact-check Trump, but only misleads readers.” It’s about exactly what the title says it’s about. The second is entitled “Voters like what Trump is doing, and they can’t stand the press.” An excerpt:
Despite the Left’s howls of outrage, or maybe in part because of them, voters like what President Trump is doing so far. Rasmussen currently finds 59% of likely voters approving of Trump’s performance. That is a Reaganesque level that he won’t be able to sustain long-term, but it suggests that most voters are comfortable both with the direction of Trump’s policies and with his iconoclastic style…
During the eight years when the notoriously dishonest Barack Obama was president, did the Times ever characterize anything he said as a lie? Not to my knowledge. Why not? Because he is a Democrat, and the Times is a Democratic Party newspaper. I’m not going to spend my time searching the archives, but I would be surprised if the Times has ever referred to anything said by Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi as a lie, either.
Steve Bannon is right. The Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and so on, constitute an opposition party when a Republican is in the White House. That is their prerogative, but they should stop pretending to be shocked–shocked!–when people notice.
The press is indeed shocked when people notice. They are used to their bias not being noticed, or used to its being noticed only by “some of the people” constituting a smaller group than at present, and a group that is quite conservative.
Once this distrust of the press hits the mainstream middle-of-the-roaders, watch out. You mmight get something like a President Trump. And you might even get a President Trump about whom the press can weep and wail and not get much traction with the public.
That’s not necessarily a good thing, by the way. It would be a far far better thing if the press covered all politicians well and covered them fairly. But at the moment, that’s merely a dream.