Size Matters and Alternative Facts

Tiny Dictator
Tiny Dicktator

I’ve had the displeasure to see a whole lot of stupid in my life, but honestly, the shit show on display at Saturday’s first press briefing for the Trump administration was a new low, until Kellyanne Conway hit Meet the Press with her “alternative facts” thing. Woah!

Chuck Todd nearly jumped out of his skin!

But that looks like this is how its going to be…which was completely predictable based on how the Trump camp behaved during the campaign.

Distractions

Are we really talking about how many people showed up for the inauguration ceremony as a thing that somehow has any material impact on anything? It doesn’t have anything to do with anything but our new POTUS’ frail ego.

Its gonna be a long four years.

Here’s the full five minute press briefing by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Its important to note that this is the first time in my memory that the White House briefing podium has been used to prop up the ego and image of a President. Sure, Press Secretaries have taken the media to task for their reporting in the past, but never on something so petty as this.

Ultimately, its a useful distraction for the new administration.

The first few actions of this new administration are set to roll-back policies that would help the very people in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan that helped put him in office.

The administration signed an executive order that increases the cost of mortgage insurance. That means monthly payments for some mortgage holders will go up. $29 bucks a month may not seem like much, but when you’re struggling to make the monthly mortgage payment, every dollar matters.

Hours later the new President signed an Executive Order that instructs Federal Agencies to “minimize the economic burden” of the Affordable Care Act, a law that is more popular now than ever.

For the first time ever, more people favor Obamacare than oppose it in more than one poll.

The new administration also banned the Dept. of Interior from Twitter, after tweeting pictures of the size of the inauguration.

That ban was reversed hours later.

But the news of the day Saturday became this shrieking protestation about the size of the inauguration audience and severe protestations about “misleading coverage” which is both petty and bullshit.

It does, however, serve as a good distraction from the Executive Actions the President signed in his first hours in office. And while I’m not certain that was the intention, it has been the effect.

Alternative Facts

alt-facts for the alt-right
alt-facts for the alt-right

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this because it’s self-explanatory. The Trump people have been using alternative facts since the start of his campaign. Whether its stats on the economy or crime or whatever fake metric they spout, its all in the service of driving people’s internal biases.

That’s what people intent on using division to elevate themselves do. You probably work or have worked with someone like this. No matter how many facts you bring to the table, they’ve got some bullshit to come back with.

And that’s why its important to look at the huge list of logical fallacies the Trump camp typically uses to make their “points”. On the same show where Kellyanne Conway uttered “alternative facts” she used a ploy called the Gish Gallop (aka Proof by verbosity) to distract from a question she was asked.

What is the Gish Gallop?

…the fallacious debate tactic of drowning your opponent in a flood of individually-weak arguments in order to prevent rebuttal of the whole argument collection without great effort.

The New York Times pushed back hard on Conway’s ‘Alternative Facts’ publishing this article that attacks some of the falsehoods the administration and their lackeys have been pushing. But the media needs to do a better job of recognizing and calling out the logical fallacies that are a staple of this administration’s rhetoric.

Its hard to do when there’s so much material. Between the twitter wars, the purposeful obfuscation, and the blatant lies. The press has a huge job on its hands. That means they also will need to prioritize their coverage so reality can peek through the layers of bullshit.

Prioritizing Coverage

Since the election there have been a ton of folks writing about how to cover the new administration. The new President has a sketchy past in dealing with the press. He banned the Washington Post from his press pool in June. More recently he called CNN “fake news” at his first press conference in six months.

Its pretty clear how the new administration will handle the press…as a foil against things they don’t like. This trend, and the pronounced death of “access journalism” are covered in this piece by Margaret Sullivan at the Washington Post. The long and the short of it is, the press will have to cover this administration differently.

Twitter wars will be replaced or supported by official statements. The White House Press Secretary will use the podium as a platform to divert attention from substantive issues. He’ll bring up bullshit to push the media to “horserace” coverage that they gravitate to.

Falling for distractions means both the media and the public will get burned like moths to a flame.

The media has a duty to report the shenanigans of the administration. How they report everything from distractions to petty protests, is key. This kind of propagandizing should be relegated to “below the fold” coverage in favor of more substance.

The rationale behind this is simple. If this is a distraction, you haven’t fallen for the trap. If it isn’t, and is truly the infantile complaints of an egomaniac, you’re not feeding the monster.

Give these stories the space they deserve…deep inside the A section near the obits, or a story about animal husbandry.

Save the top of the fold for the stuff that really matters. The policy stuff that will impact people. The investigations that will expose the new administration’s conflicts of interest. The things that really put our Republic in jeopardy.

That’s what’s important at this point.

Four Long Years

Whether its the public, the media, or even some members of the administration, the next four years will be a marathon, not a sprint. The key to making it to the end of that marathon is discipline and dogged determination.

There is no way to know what will happen next. But the media has a huge role in helping us stay abreast of what the administration is doing. Spending more time on the substance of what their doing than the silliness of what they’re saying is paramount.

That may sound like a hard sell, but its what has to happen. The media has painted themselves into a corner with decades of calorie free coverage. They’ve lost the trust of millions of people by focusing on the politics rather than the policy. They’ve failed to describe the intention vs. the effect of policy since the mid-1990’s. Reporting the effect is critical if we’re going to move forward as a nation.

That means getting out of the press room and talking to regular people. This article from the Washington Post is a prime example of how to do it.

Telling relate-able stories about the effect of policy is the way to get to regular people. Its the way to break down the silos that have been created through decades of faux news and charges of liberal bias.

Most importantly, its the way to keep the 4th estate relevant and away from falling prey to an estate sale. It builds trust, and keeps people engaged. It shows us we have more things in common than differences.

That may be a heavy load for the media to bear, but its the burden they carry. To report honestly. To provide context. And to build understanding.

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