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Long before Americans tuned in for President Trump’s Oval Office address on border security, liberal journalists already had their attack plan in place. They didn’t even really need to bother watching the speech, since they already knew exactly what they were going to say in response to it.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, the belligerent carnival barker of the White House press corps, gave the country a preview in a televised spat with White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway.
“Can you promise that the president will tell the truth tonight? Will he tell the truth?” Acosta badgered Conway, who calmly turned the question around on him. “Yes Jim, and can you promise that you will?” Conway retorted, rightly calling Acosta out for being a “smart-ass.”
Conway, of course, was right. Despite the well-deserved smackdown, Acosta was his usual smart-ass self when CNN put him on air to analyze the president’s historic Oval Office address. “That address probably should have come with a surgeon general’s warning—it was hazardous to the truth,” Acosta said in the segment immediately following the speech, a line he’d clearly intended to deliver well before he even heard what the president had to say.
Beyond his lackluster attempt at wit, Acosta neither justified calling the president of the United States a liar, nor was he able to rebut the substance of what President Trump actually said.
Acosta’s counterparts on the print side were no better. Unable to find actual falsehoods in the president’s border security speech, the media’s self-appointed fact checkers fell into a hair-splitting game of “yes, but.” The New York Times, for example, basically admitted that they could not dispute virtually any of the president’s statements, resorting to qualifiers and weasel-words like “This is misleading” and “This needs context” in order to cast doubt on his claims.
The canned, entirely predictable nature of these responses is even more evident based on the fact that some liberal journalists, such as the Times’ Peter Baker, tried to “fact check” President Trump about things—like terrorism—the President didn’t even mention in his address.
The few things that the media fact-checkers were willing to label “false,” meanwhile, were almost uniformly political questions on which the author either distorted the president’s words or simply asserted as objective fact a different opinion than that of President Trump.
The New York Times, for example, used its “fact-check” article to insist that Democrats are not to blame for the shutdown because they have offered to approve $1.3 billion for border security that doesn’t include a wall. Politico’s Ted Hesson stretched the “fact-check” format even further, telling his readers that there simply isn’t any crisis on the southern border.
It was all too much for even some avowedly liberal journalists, who pointed out that abusing the fact-check format to make unsubstantiated attacks on the President’s credibility ultimately serves to undermine the credibility of the fact-checkers themselves.
“The fact-checking genre is fine and useful in certain circumstances but it is woefully under-theorized as an undertaking, which leads it into all kinds of weird, shoddy, and dubious territory,” MSNBC’s arch-liberal anchor Chris Hayes complained.
“Stop fact-checking normative claims and subjective, value-based assertions! It degrades the entire enterprise of fact-checking! Fact-checking is obviously needed, but not the bizarre new version invented by oblivious, self-satisfied journos!” independent liberal journalist Michael Tracey opined.
Liberal journalists throughout the mainstream media allowed their own prejudices to shape their reporting, to the detriment of citizens seeking to understand the most pressing political issue of the moment. Before the address, numerous outlets ran stories of networks lamenting—in advance—the giving of airtime to the president and the charge that he would lie. Like Acosta, they had a preconceived notion of exactly how they wanted to portray the speech, and they executed their playbook with scant regard for President Trump’s actual words and no regard for the truth.
Americans who support border security—and who care about the truth—should actually take heart from this partisan ploy. The liberal media’s canned response shows that they have little confidence left in their ability to rebut President Trump’s case for a border wall on the merits, and where the liberal media go, the Democrats are likely to follow.
Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images