Disarming

truths-liesDon’t give them any ammo!!  Trump lies a lot.   We know that.  He lies so much I think he actually eventually convinces himself his lies are true.  But part of his strategy to convince us his lies are true is his attempt to discredit the media which calls him out on those lies.

This has become evident to all of us over the past 2 years, and especially the past few months, as he hasn’t really been subtle about it.  In fact, Trump has declared outright that he’s at war with the media, and he constantly accuses media reports (or reporters) that he doesn’t like of being “fake news.”   Trump’s war has only  intensified in recent weeks, with his top aides enlisting in the effort to vilify the press, even going so far as to call the press “the opposition.”

But my post today is actually not directed at Trump but at Democrats and the media.  My beef is a pretty small one, but it matters, because Trump will use (and abuse) absolutely anything he can as evidence to try to make his case that the media can’t be trusted.  So we cannot give him any ammo for that fight, no matter how small.  The media so far, has made very few factual errors in reporting on Trump.  Despite all of Trump’s complaints and accusations toward the media, he’s had almost no legitimate objections.

But right after the inauguration one reporter made a single error, mistakenly tweeting that Trump had removed the bust of MLK, Jr. from the Oval Office, which was not the case.  The reporter determined the correct information within about half an hour, tweeted the correction out multiple times, and issued an apology also by tweet (the same way he’d issued his initial incorrect report). mlk-bust-2 But for the next week, Trump and his aides (and the Trump-supporting right wing media) used that single incident as evidence that the media is dishonest and owes the President an apology for their terrible reporting. kellyanne Conway even pointed to the incident as an example of how the press has been so horrible to Trump and his people that she now needs Secret Service protection to protect her from threats she’s getting at home.

So I think it’s really important not only that the media try very hard not to supply Trump with any more of those moments, but also that in the rare instances that they do happen, we Democrats (or anyone other anti-Trumpers) make sure we don’t run with them if we can help it, because that will only amplify them.  

The substantive issue today is something I already mentioned in my post on Monday about several Obama-era rules Republicans are in the process of overturning. But that was a long post, so I wanted to highlight this item for people who might not have read that whole post, and I also wanted to put it into some more context.  It’s about the gun rule that House Republicans voted to overturn last Thursday.  The public reaction to that (mostly coming from Democrats/Progressives) was big, passionate, and pissed off.  But unfortunately, due partly to some slightly-less-than-perfect reporting & partly just due to overexcitement by the audience, people were reacting to something that wasn’t quite what happened.  And because of the speed and reach of social media, the wrong information spread like lightning.

The first problem was that some – not all – of the people reacting on social media, were reacting as if the rule had already been reversed.  It has not.  It’s only been voted on in the House.  It still needs to go to the Senate, where it will almost certainly get the needed votes (see Monday’s post Outgunned for an explanation of why Democrats can’t stop this particular item with a filibuster in the Senate) and then to President Trump for a signature.  So it’s true that this will almost certainly pass, but it hasn’t passed yet.  There are going to be many instances in the future of items that pass the House – some of which will be outrageous & therefore will get lots of media attention – that will not get through the Senate, because Democrats will have the ability to filibuster in those cases (at least for now, unless & until Republicans change that rule).  So that’s something to keep in mind when you read future reporting – you will likely read about some crazy things that are never going to become law.  This point about the voting was reported accurately last week, but I think in the rush of excitement, some people didn’t notice this detail.

But the bigger problem is that what most people were tweeting and posting about on Facebook described something that just didn’t happen.  And it wasn’t really their fault – they were describing what they had read in some faulty headlines.  That’s what this really came down to – bad headlines.  The substantive reporting on the gun law was well done and accurate.  And even some of the headlines were well written, or at least neutral.  But some of them, including one AP headline which unfortunately got picked up and repeated numerous times, was more sensationalistic and misrepresented what the rule change did.  (AP had a later headline that was more neutral).  Here’s what that bad AP headline, which was repeated all over the media, said:  “House Votes to Scrap Obama Rule on Background Checks for Gun Ownership.”  And here’s a different, but also misleading, headline from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (numerous other papers had headlines similar to this one):  “Congress Ends Background Checks for Some Gun Buyers with Mental Ilnesses.”

Now here’s what the original Obama rule actually was going to do, and what will change once Republicans overturn it:   The rule would have affected people on social security disability insurance who have been designated as mentally impaired enough that they require someone else to manage their disability benefits for them.  Under the rule, the Social Security Administration (SSA) would have been required to send their records to the federal firearms background check system.  

However, even if this rule gets reversed, the federal background check system will still exist, and federal law will still bar sales to certain people with mental illnesses, the same as it had previously. Many people slip through the cracks of this system, because it’s difficult for the government to collect the necessary records, for many reasons including privacy concerns.  So the Obama rule was one attempt to fix that by requiring extra reporting from the SSA.  Overturning the rule simply gets rid of this extra requirement on SSA, a requirement that actually hasn’t even gone into effect yet.  And note that, the rule was opposed not only by the NRA and many on the right side of the political spectrum, but also also by some groups on the left such as the ACLU, and by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities

So you can see now how the headlines do not match up with the real story.  The headlines make it sound like either the entire background check system for gun purchases is gone, or like Republicans specifically eliminated background checks for the mentally ill. news Neither of those things happened.  Plenty of people will still be unhappy with what the Republican rule change does actually do.  You can argue about whether that change makes it easier for the mentally ill to get guns and whether it makes us less safe.  But what the rule change actually does is a far cry from how the headlines made it sound.

As I mentioned above, the actual articles did describe the rule, and thus, the change accurately.  But the descriptions were very brief, and once you’ve read those alarming headlines, there was not enough description in any of the articles to dispel the misconceptions that would have already taken hold.  This is not the fault of the articles’ authors, as headlines are almost always written by a different writer at some point after the article is written, but it explains why so many readers misunderstood what was rule change was about.

So I don’t fault anyone who might have been misled by this story.  The headlines were outright misleading, and the stories that followed didn’t give enough information to clear up the damage done by the headlines.   My plea then to you (and to myself, because I’ve definitely made mistakes and I’m sure I’ll do it again no matter how careful I am) is just to be cautious: if you have time read beyond headlines, look for multiple sources so you can get different explanations/views, and of course, always read my blog!  There are going to be so, so many genuine outrages coming from Trump & the GOP in the next months and years, and we are going to need to be believed when we call attention to them, so we have to make every effort we can to preserve our credibility, even if to Trump we’ll always just be the lyin’ opposition.

And my plea to the media is simply to do better next time.  They got off easy on this one for one simple reason:  the story wasn’t about Trump.  That’s it.  He didn’t notice they got it wrong because the story wasn’t about him, and if it’s not about him he doesn’t read it or watch it.  So they get a mulligan here.  But in the future, with the stories that are about Trump which will be most of them, they can’t give him any more ammo, because he will take it and gleefully use it against them.

*****

Photo credit: Creative Commons Truth and Lies by Jason Borneman is licensed under CC BY-NY-SA 2.0

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