In less than a week this administration is suffering a major credibility problem and it apparently couldn't care less.
Welcome to America’s Orwellian administration.
The White House, President Donald Trump and his all-but-discredited press spokesman Sean Spicer are sticking by Trump’s assertion that in reality he would have won the popular vote but there were millions of illegal votes cast by illegal immigrants — a claim that has been totally debunked. The administration is now suggesting it might even might investigate the fact-challenged claim. Journalists and news organizations are now becoming resigned to call the statements coming out of the young Trump White House what they are:
The administration has already served formal notice that what were once called lies are now “alternative facts” and as a result has pushed Orwell’s 1949 classic book about a totalitarian state 1984 onto the Amazon best-seller list. A a bit more subtle incarnation what this administration is doing used to be called “doubling-down” but the use of the big lie technique in this case qualifies as “alternative facts” — which most assuredly will be echoed by Rush, Sean, some Trumpistas on Twitter and some conservative bloggers.
The latest controversy is yet one more indication that in less than a week this administration is suffering a major credibility problem — and that it apparently couldn’t care less.
After being repeatedly pressed about President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that “millions” of people voted illegally in the presidential election, White House press secretary Sean Spicer left the door open to a possible investigation into the claims during a press briefing Tuesday.
On Monday, Trump said during a meeting with congressional leaders in the White House that “3 to 5 million illegals” voted, according to two Democratic aides who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Spicer told reporters Tuesday “maybe we will” launch an investigation into Trump’s claims.
“Anything’s possible, I think, at some point,” he added. “There is no investigation. I said it was possible. Anything is possible. It was a hypothetical question.”
Trump has made repeated claims about voter fraud after losing the popular vote in the election in November, though thus far, no evidence has been presented that backs up his allegations.
“He continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence people have presented to him,” Spicer said Tuesday.
At least five reporters asked questions on the issue during the press briefing, and at one point Spicer dismissed the suggestion that Trump kept bringing up the topic of the unsubstantiated voter fraud because the president was upset about the vote count. Spicer said Trump “won very handily” and “he’s very comfortable with his win.”
When pressed for specific evidence supporting Trump’s “long-standing belief,” Spicer cited a 2008 study by Pew Research and “other studies that have been presented to [Trump].
What’s really going on with Trump and the press — the continued attacks on the press, making statements demonstrably false (which are then parroted by supporters as authentic facts)? NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen best explains it, pointing to Spicer’s widely panned dressing down over the press as he delivered “alternative facts” about the low turnout at Trump’s inauguration last week. He titled his post “SEND IN THE INTERNS,” advising the press to put their juniormost people in the White House pressroom and go out to do REAL reporting.
Here’s his take on Trump’s strategy:
Trying not for elegance but for accuracy, I would call this event a “relationship message delivery vehicle,” operating on three levels.
First, it told staffers who work for Trump: this is what we expect. If The Leader is reeling from a narcissistic wound (crowd figures too small) you will be expected to sacrifice dignity and best practice to redress that wound. That’s what you bought into when you agreed to work for President Trump. This is a stark statement. No wonder Spicer sounded tense.
A second message was to the press. You will be turned into hate objects whenever we feel like it. We can do that to you without providing right of reply because… what are you going to do about it? Small mistakes quickly corrected will be treated as evidence of malicious wrong doing by the entire group. (And you deserve that.) We are not bound by what you call facts. We have our own, and we will proceed to put them out regardless of what the evidence says. It’s not a problem for us if you stagger from the room in disbelief. We’re not trying to “win the news cycle,” or win you over. We’re trying to demonstrate independence from and power over you people. This room is not just for briefings, announcements and Q & A. It’s also a theater of resentment in which you play a crucial part. Our constituency hates your guts; this is the place where we commune with them around that fact. See you tomorrow, guys!
A third “relationship” message went to the listeners, in tripartite.
* To the core Trump constituency — and an audience primed for this over years of acrid ‘liberal media’ critique — two things were said. “We’re going to rough these people up.” (Because we know how long you have waited for that.) But also, and in return, you have to accept our “alternative facts” even if your own eyes tell you otherwise. This too is a stark message. The epistemological “price” for being a solider in Trump’s army is high. You have to swallow, repeat and defend things that simply don’t check out.
* To the listeners who are hostile to Trump the message is: you don’t count. There is no common world of fact that connects us to you. Rage on, losers. We don’t have to acknowledge any part of your reality. We’re fine if you dispute ours. In fact, the hotter the better. Our aim is true: to maximize conflict between your core group and ours. So please: help us polarize!
* To the neither/nors, the people who are not part of the Trump constituency and not yet committed to opposing him either, the message is very different. I can summarize it in two words: Don’t bother. People are fighting over what is real— and what is a lie. They dwell in different worlds— different, but neither of them yours. Any modest effort to pay attention will collapse into futility. Truth is impossible to discern without a heroic — and expensive — act of crap detection. Mostly there is confusion. The only rational choice is to pass on the whole spectacle. This space isn’t for you. This is for “them,” the people obsessed with politics. You should just live your life.
Yes, it is worth (re)reading 1984 since you get a sense of deja vu. This book is also essential reading.
Photo by BBC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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