The ‘Print the Legend’ Obsession

The “print the legend” mentality has infected most of us. As a part of national and cultural identity as much as quick reference, it is understandable how we got here. “Tricky Dick,” “Camelot,” and “Watergate,” are all terms immediately intelligible and understood by most people to mean what the media intends them to mean in political terms, even though their shorthand history is deliberately beneficial to the Left. 

The Left has controlled the media for so long it now believes it can rewrite history with impunity. It is this mindset that is a primary motivation for their actions toward Donald Trump, as it had been previously regarding Ronald Reagan, and the countless other victims of “all the news that’s fit to print.”

But I have often wondered at the affection the Hollywood community has for “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” It is a very good film, but not nearly as good as its reputation suggests. Nor does it hold up in comparison to so many other John Ford masterpieces. I believe the key to this may be that single phrase drawn from the climax of the film: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

At only 68, John Ford was half-blind, in ill-health, and aging badly after having endured hundreds of difficult on-location shoots during the making of some 140 films over nearly 50 years—never mind the wounds he received during the battle of Midway in World War II that earned him a purple heart, or the smoking of what must have been tons of tobacco by that time, as well as his penchant for too much hard liquor. In a direct show of bad faith, Paramount Pictures cut his budget, forcing him to use black-and-white film as well as backlots and sound stages in lieu of shooting on location. Ford made the most of it. He had the actors, and he had the writers and that was enough to make his point (though he was in a notably bad mood for most of the filming). He was the real legend.

But a careful reading of the “Liberty Valance” script is not favorable to politicians in general or to the journalists who make a living rewriting what the public “needs to know.” That key line, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” not only makes sense of a very good film but it well reveals the underbelly of what too often becomes history.

Most commonly, this sort of twisting of fact is used as an instrument for the blatant obfuscation of reality when the powers-that-be can’t handle the truth. The Left’s constant projecting of its sins onto its opponents is a perfect demonstration of this.

From Russian collusion to rigged elections, fascism to racism, not just some but each and every accusation lobbed by the Left has its root in something they themselves were guilty of doing. Facts don’t matter—what they choose to report does.

“Deflection” is another term that applies to left-wing lies. Don’t respond to comparisons between a Trump and a Biden economy, let’s talk about Trump’s hair. When the facts don’t not serve the purpose, move on.

But outright lying is always the best. Watching a typical news report can be a disorienting experience. Hearing an NBC reporter say, “Despite Republican scare tactics, the southern border is secure,” while watching time-stamped video of illegal aliens crossing in droves can seem like parody. But it is not funny.

The Left’s enduring affection for “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is perhaps in the simple self-identification with the reporter at the end. The image of “Camelot” and of youthful vigor conjured up by the John F. Kennedy era must be preserved, never mind the near catastrophe of incompetence that fostered the Cuban Missile Crisis and the debacle in Vietnam. And please, let’s not speak of Chicago and that stolen election. It was not the first such theft, but certainly the beginning of a series in the modern era.

The left-wing press had exercised new muscles with its portrayal of Richard Nixon. He was despised since he defeated Helen Gahagan Douglas for Senate in 1950. Eisenhower had run a fairly steady administration and attacking a war hero was a bridge too far, so Vice President Nixon became the deflection point for Democrats. Their brag—that they had defeated their nemesis with stage lighting during the 1960 presidential debate—is, at best, a half-truth. Kennedy had come across as unprepared and high-pitched. This was especially blatant to the then much larger radio audience. But never mind. Simple old-timey political shenanigans had done the real job in Richard Daley’s Chicago. The press simply ignored that theft of votes as if it did not happen.

The “third-rate burglary” that was the Watergate break-in was not the beginning of collusion between the darker forces of the FBI, CIA, and the deep state. But it was, until recently, certainly the most successful. A popularly elected president was brought down, and the press was truly ascendant. Wannabe journalists now looked to Watergate as their touchstone. And, indeed, it was. 

No matter how many investigations pointed out the falsehoods, a new generation of reporters, cured in the socialist idealism of the universities instead of being out on the streets with pad and pencil, learned that the facts did not matter. Having the correct political purpose was the point.

Having learned their trade in the group dynamic of the classroom, it was understood without a need for central command, that scratching the back of authority would get one the necessary result.

From his beginnings, Donald Trump set out to create his own legend, to the frequent consternation of both friends and enemies. The inability of the press to control him or to manage his image, despite its countless attempts, is one of the still unheralded triumphs of our time. The Left was forced to use the most desperate of means, the “Chicago way,” in their outright theft of the 2020 election, in order to stop him. And the Press dutifully did their part by not reporting the obvious.

Now, with the metaphorical gun of the Left unholstered, it will not be adequate to bring a knife to the next fight. The press will report what it wants in any case. What matters is the result.

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About Vincent McCaffrey

Vincent McCaffrey is a novelist and bookseller. Visit his website at www.vincentmccaffrey.com.

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