Opinion: Why the media should ignore Trump


photo by Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News (CagleCartoons.com) 2016

by Joel Lev-Tov, Staff Writer

From false accusations of voter fraud in Florida’s midterm elections, to calling Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville “very fine people”, President Trump’s administration has consistently spewed falsehoods and ignorant statements. Despite the blatant lies that the President continues to spread, major media outlets are still eager to give coverage and provide a platform for Trump’s claims.

The only way to survive Trump and the detrimental impacts of his presidency is for the media to ignore the man.

Yes, ignore him. He lives to spew purposefully divisive and offensive messages to draw attention onto himself. And it’s worked: Fox News repeats his talking points, MSNBC criticizes his remarks, and CNN hosts a group of angry panelists to argue about it. This does not help. In fact, it hurts. By only focusing on the latest outlandish comment Trump has made, journalists ignore the fact that he is the president and is using his presidency to push genuinely offensive and reprehensible policies.

Trump has recently received a lot of backlash for sending troops to the border in effort to crack down on the perceived threat of a migrant caravan “invasion”. Trump has even aired racist campaign ads, such as one depicting a Mexican man bragging about killing police officers, to invoke fear of Hispanics among his base.The media fixated on this topic. Turn on any given TV news show, and, chances are, they’re talking about the ‘caravan,’ because Trump is talking about it.

But by focusing on this, the media ignores many egregious acts of the Trump administration. Recent examples include HUD’s pondering the question of whether to roll back Obama administration’s policies to enforce the Fair Housing Act. This is despite the fact that it hasn’t reached its goal yet: As The Washington Post reported, many cities are still not integrated. Examples include Detroit and Chicago. Per The Washington Post, “The Chicago metropolitan area has remained one of the most segregated regions in the United States since 1990. Detroit, another largely African American city, has remained the most segregated metropolitan area since 1990.”

Another example of the Trump administration’s pushing of horrible policies includes the Supreme Court case Students for Fair Admissions vs. Harvard (PDF). (In case you want to see a comedic take and a background of the story, watch this, Hasan Minhaj covered this in detail in the second episode of his Netflix show, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj.) This Court case revolves around SFFA’s claim that Harvard violated the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against Asian-Americans. According to Vox, “the plaintiffs [SFFA] have argued that the only way to truly ensure that Asian Americans stand an equal chance in admissions is if race is completely removed from the process.”

The truth about this case is that it seeks to dismantle affirmative action. Edward Blum, a white, 66-year old lawyer, has previously attempted this, such as in a Supreme Court case in 2016 where he represented Abigail Fisher, who claimed she wasn’t admitted to the University of Texas because of her race – – white. The Supreme Court rejected this, in part because, per the BBC, “When Fisher applied to [the University of Texas], 168 African-American and Latino students who had higher grades than her were denied access, while some white students with lower grades were admitted.” Notwithstanding that defeat, Mr. Blum is back at the Supreme Court trying to strike down affirmative action once and for all in favor of “race-neutral” policies. (The University of Texas VP for diversity, Greg Vincent, said affirmative action was necessary due to Texas’ history of segregation. I would argue that a preference for minorities is the least the US can do, given its legacy of racism.) The State Department has filed a Statement of Interest in the case.

I’ll bet you didn’t know anything or much about either of those two things. You’re not alone.

All these things get glossed over when the media focuses on what Trump says instead of the policy changes he’s actually pushing. This is exactly what he wants the media to do.  He wants us to focus on this, especially his statements. Why? Not just because he likes to hear himself talk, but because through this, he is able to control our nation’s political dialogue. .

Just a few days ago, the nation was reeling from the tragic shooting in Pittsburgh was. Mr. Trump undoubtedly didn’t appreciate the narrative’s being centered around anti-semitism and his possible role in distributing it. The ‘caravan’ of migrants mentioned earlier provided a welcome distraction: Fox News could once again launch into their usual anti-immigrant rhetoric; CNN could have their anchors spar with lunatics in fights suited for reality TV; and MSNBC could spend their days yacking about how this is not ok. But Mr. Trump’s ultimate goal worked: We were no longer talking about his encouragement of this kind of hate. Instead, the talk had shifted favorite topic, thus being manipulated into furthering his goals.

That brings me back to my main point: To restore some semblance of normality in the news, we need to ignore Mr. Trump.

Some journalists consider ignoring Mr. Trump a dicey proposition; After all, he is the president. One of these voices, The Washington Post’s media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, was interviewed on Diane Rehm’s WAMU show, On My Mind. Asked to respond to the proposal of ignoring the President, she said, “Of course we have to cover the President. I think that goes without saying.”

She suggested that the media should cover the president’s comments with “context right away and fact-checking right away.” She gave the example of Trump’s comments about ending birthright citizenship. “The way it was reported immediately … was simply what he had said. And it lacked those shorthand ways of getting information across, lacked the immediate skepticism of ‘Well, he probably can’t do it.’”

Mrs. Sullivan certainly has a point. The media, in any normal circumstance, would have the obligation to cover the president. But when you have a president who manages to make 4,229 “false or misleading claims” in 558 days (per The Washington Post), journalists should not give him the same platform given to others.

You see, Mr. Trump uses the media as his pawns. They will broadcast whatever he says to the general population. In fact, they will pick up his rhetoric, as George Lakoff and Gil Duran argue in a recent op-ed for The Guardian. The media spent weeks upon weeks reporting on Secretary Clinton’s emails, which only helped Mr. Trump. He harped on this constantly during the campaign, labeling her “Crooked Hillary.” That’s a name that sticks, especially after the media gives him a platform to funnel his craziness into the real world. Mr. Trump has done the same thing with the Mueller investigation, calling it a “witch hunt” (In reaction to those statements, John Oliver humorously commented, “If this is a witch hunt, witches exist.”).

However, fact-checks don’t seem to be particularly effective, as Vox’s Carlos Maza points out in his online video series Strikethrough. According to Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist studying fact checking, there are two psychological reasons why,  as he points out in an interview with Maza. One of these is that there is a high (mental) cost to accepting the fact that we are wrong. “It’s costly just to say, ‘I was wrong,’” Nyhan says. The ability to admit that we’re wrong gets even harder when it is linked to partisanship or a candidate, as it is perceived as going against your own social or political beliefs when acknowledging falsehoods in statements from the aforementioned groups. Nyhan says that the second reason gets to an underlying problem with the news media and how it fact-checks: It likes to report what Trump says immediately, without mentioning the (in)accuracy of the statement. The false information gets presented in an unfiltered fashion, and the fact-check only follows much later. The fact-check inevitably has a smaller audience than the original piece.

This is why fact checking can only be part of the solution: Because of the way we humans work, fact-checking isn’t very effective.

That leaves us with only one option for preventing the Trump cancer from spreading: Ignore him!