AGAINST THE GRAIN

What Happens When Everyone Loses Credibility

It’s not just Trump. Democrats have become blindingly partisan, and respected news outlets are publishing stories that are in direct conflict.

A protester holds up a sign outside the Justice Department in Washington on Thursday during a demonstration against Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Josh Kraushaar
Add to Briefcase
Josh Kraushaar
March 3, 2017, 1:28 p.m.

We’re at a unique his­tor­ic­al mo­ment when trust in our pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions is at all-time lows. The Trump White House lost its cred­ib­il­ity with the pub­lic from the first full day of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, when the pres­id­ent sent out spokes­man Sean Spicer to lie about the in­aug­ur­a­tion crowd size. From the scope of his Elect­or­al Col­lege vic­tory to claims that the murder rate is at all-time highs, the pres­id­ent him­self has been re­spons­ible for mis­lead­ing Amer­ic­ans with glar­ing false­hoods. Con­sequently, any­thing that comes out of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s mouth is treated with deep skep­ti­cism.

Demo­crats, in their zeal to dis­cred­it the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, have be­come so par­tis­an that it’s of­ten hard to take their op­pos­i­tion ser­i­ously. One ex­ample: A re­cent New York Times story re­vealed the in­ter­ming­ling of in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing and polit­ics in the wan­ing weeks of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, with of­fi­cials scram­bling to pre­serve in­form­a­tion of any con­tacts between Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials and Rus­si­an rep­res­ent­at­ives. Per­haps the rush to pre­serve in­tel­li­gence was con­duc­ted for only the most pat­ri­ot­ic, high-minded reas­ons. But it’s aw­fully telling that the flurry of anti-Rus­sia activ­ity oc­curred after Trump won the pres­id­ency—and long after Rus­sia had been med­dling in the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion. In­deed, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion dragged its feet in con­front­ing Rus­sia over hack­ing, much to the Clin­ton cam­paign’s con­sterna­tion. As NBC News re­port­er Ken Dilani­an tweeted, in a re­sponse to Obama for­eign policy sherpa Ben Rhodes: “What if all those [Obama] people knew the ex­tent of Rus­si­an ef­forts be­fore the 2016 elec­tion and didn’t tell the pub­lic.”

Even the much-ma­ligned main­stream me­dia has, at times, heightened con­fu­sion about the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions. The cov­er­age of the Ye­men raid is a tell­tale ex­ample of how it’s in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out what to be­lieve these days—even stor­ies by the na­tion’s most re­spec­ted of news or­gan­iz­a­tions. On Wed­nes­day, NBC News re­por­ted that 10 un­named cur­rent of­fi­cials said no vi­tal in­tel­li­gence was gathered from last month’s raid. One day later, CNN’s Bar­bara Starr re­por­ted that the raid led of­fi­cials to identi­fy dozens of con­tacts with ties to al-Qaida, cit­ing sev­er­al Pentagon of­fi­cials. Mean­while, Trump him­self quoted De­fense Sec­ret­ary James Mat­tis in his State of the Uni­on that fallen Navy SEAL Ry­an Owens “was a part of a highly suc­cess­ful raid that gen­er­ated large amounts of vi­tal in­tel­li­gence that will lead to many more vic­tor­ies in the fu­ture against our en­emies.” Even the most savvy news con­sumer has no idea what to be­lieve.

This is the con­sequence of run­away polit­ic­al po­lar­iz­a­tion: Trump can ob­fus­cate with aban­don, without any con­sequences from his base. Demo­crats want to dis­cred­it the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion any way pos­sible, even when it means ove­rhyp­ing stor­ies to fit with a pre­con­ceived nar­rat­ive. (The sheer num­ber of Sen­ate Demo­crats call­ing for At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Jeff Ses­sions’s resig­na­tion, be­fore there’s any proof of mis­con­duct, is an ob­vi­ous ex­ample of this.) Mean­while, it’s harder to find truly non­par­tis­an of­fi­cials who don’t have at least a ves­ted in­terest in a cer­tain out­come. That makes it harder for re­port­ers to sep­ar­ate their sources’ in­form­a­tion from their polit­ic­al motives.

There’s no end to this cycle of mis­trust. It means news con­sumers need to di­gest what they hear from pub­lic of­fi­cials—and yes, even the me­dia—with a healthy de­gree of skep­ti­cism. And re­mem­ber that, even in an era of non­stop in­fotain­ment, it still takes time to un­cov­er the truth. Re­pub­lic­ans would be well-served by sup­port­ing bi­par­tis­an con­gres­sion­al in­vest­ig­a­tions in­to the Trump cam­paign’s con­nec­tions to Rus­sia—as many already have, un­der polit­ic­al pres­sure. Demo­crats would be smart not to call for im­peach­ment in re­ac­tion to every in­cre­ment­al news story that sur­faces. As for us in the me­dia, we need to present the news im­par­tially, without fear or fa­vor.

TRAIL MIX:

1. An un­der­re­por­ted find­ing from the NBC/Wall Street Journ­al poll re­leased this week: More Amer­ic­ans be­lieve the coun­try is on the right track than any time since June 2009. The poll found that 40 per­cent of adults be­lieve the coun­try is headed in the right dir­ec­tion, while 51 per­cent think it’s go­ing in the wrong dir­ec­tion. This, des­pite Trump’s me­diocre 44 per­cent job ap­prov­al rat­ing in the same poll. (Im­me­di­ately after Obama’s reelec­tion in 2012, two NBC/WSJ polls found 41 per­cent of re­gistered voters say­ing things were on the right track, but more voters were neg­at­ive about the coun­try’s dir­ec­tion.)

It’s a sign that Trump’s policies are less prob­lem­at­ic than his un­pres­id­en­tial tem­pera­ment. Per­haps if the pres­id­ent stops tweet­ing in­cess­antly, avoids angry me­dia-bash­ing, and sticks to script more of­ten, his ap­prov­al rat­ings will start creep­ing up­wards.

2. Geor­gia’s spe­cial elec­tion is draw­ing out­sized at­ten­tion, but the race to re­place Ry­an Zinke in Montana could be just as com­pet­it­ive. Montana has tra­di­tion­ally been more fa­vor­able ter­rain for Demo­crats than Tom Price’s sub­urb­an At­lanta dis­trict. The state elec­ted Gov. Steve Bul­lock to its second term last Novem­ber, and its con­gres­sion­al del­eg­a­tion fea­tures two-term Demo­crat­ic Sen. Jon Test­er.

But if you be­lieve that Pres­id­ent Trump re­ori­ented the polit­ic­al map, the Geor­gia seat would be more prom­ising. In 2012, Mitt Rom­ney won 55 per­cent of the vote in Montana, sig­ni­fic­antly lower than his 61 per­cent share in Geor­gia’s 6th Dis­trict. In 2016, the tables turned. Trump won 56 per­cent in Montana, while tal­ly­ing only 48 per­cent in Price’s dis­trict. The primary in Montana will oc­cur on May 25, just be­fore the ex­pec­ted June 20 run­off in Geor­gia.

So, in as­sess­ing which race could be in­ter­est­ing, it de­pends on wheth­er you be­lieve 2016 map marks our polit­ic­al fu­ture, or wheth­er the more-tra­di­tion­al par­tis­an break­downs of elec­tions past will pre­vail.

What We're Following See More »
PARTICIPATES IN TOWN HALL TONIGHT
Ryan: “There Are No Sides” on Charlottesville
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

After taking fire for not forcefully condemning President Trump's statements on Charlottesville, Speaker Paul Ryan today issued a statement that takes issue with any "moral relativism" when it comes to Neo-Nazis. "There are no sides," he wrote. "There is no other argument. We will not tolerate this hateful ideology in our society." Ryan participates in a CNN town hall tonight from Racine, Wis.

Source:
MAY BOOST TROOP LEVELS
Trump to Make Prime Time Address on Afghanistan
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump, who has been accused by lawmakers of dragging his feet on Afghanistan, has settled on a new strategy to carry on the nearly 16-year-old conflict there, administration officials said Sunday. The move, following a detailed review, is likely to open the door to the deployment of several thousand troops." Trump will address the issue at 9:00 p.m. from Fort Myer in Arlington on Monday night.

Source:
LARGE FAMILY AND TRIPS TAKING TOLL
Secret Service Funds Depleted
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Secret Service can no longer pay hundreds of agents it needs to carry out an expanded protective—in large part due to the sheer size of President Trump's family and efforts necessary to secure their multiple residences up and down the East Coast. Secret Service Director Randolph 'Tex' Alles, in an interview with USA TODAY, said more than 1,000 agents have already hit the federally mandated caps for salary and overtime allowances that were meant to last the entire year."

Source:
FOR HELP WITH OPIOID PROBLEM
U.S. Health Chief: China “Incredible Partner”
2 hours ago
THE LATEST
GONE BY MONDAY
University of Texas Removes Four Confederate Monuments
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

University of Texas President Greg Fenves announced late Sunday night that school's statues depicting Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, John Reagan and James Stephen Hogg will be removed from the Main Mall and added to the Briscoe Center for scholarly study. In the announcement he wrote, the "monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login