Real news gets new anchor Kayleigh McEnany

I consider myself a strong speller, but my brain refuses to absorb the name “Kayleigh McEnany.” I blame the victim. “Kayleigh” is needlessly adorned—this is my son William, whom we call Billeigh—and “McEnany” is just a bunch of sounds, the Scots-Irish equivalent of “banana.” Maybe that’s the point. McEnany herself is a cipher, a pretty blonde template after the fashion of Fox News. She looks like the anchorwoman in a Paul Verhoeven movie. In this regard, she contrasts sharply with the previous anchor of the real news, Lara Trump, who looks like the realtor who tried to fuck your dad.

Thus we enter week two of the real news, “brought to you from Trump tower here in New York.” Like most Americans, I am sick of fake news such as the New York Times and long for news I can trust, ideally broadcast from a black tower owned by the person the news is about. Once again, the real news reports that Donald Trump is great. But it’s got a new, more professional face in McEnany, and it also seems to have better production values. There are wipes between cuts instead of momentum-killing fades to black, and there are inserts. Granted, the inserts play sound at low volume while McEnany talks, but we’re still looking at a leap forward in production values. Check it out:

McEnany’s appearance on the real news coincides with her appointment as spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. Previously, she was a contributor to CNN and a producer for Mike Huckabee’s show on Fox News. Between the personnel change and the more professional look, it’s tempting to conclude that the RNC is producing the real news now, but it remains unclear who makes this show. It runs on Trump’s Facebook page, and it claims to shoot in Trump tower, so it makes sense that it would be a product of the Trump PR team. But this installment bears the RNC’s fingerprints, not just in staffing and production but in message.

“More great economic news on Friday,” McEnany says, following Walter Cronkite’s practice of telling viewers how wonderful world events have been. “Overall, since the president took office, President Trump has created more than one million jobs.” That sounds impressive, but we should not that there hasn’t been a six-month period since mid-2013 that didn’t see the creation of more than a million jobs. That factoid comes from this Washington Post analysis of recent messaging from the RNC, which described the million-jobs statistic as “unprecedented economic growth” in a tweet Sunday night. Two pro-Trump organizations could easily talk about the same recent economic data at the same time without working together. But McEnany’s new positions as RNC spokeswoman and real news anchor make it seem like more than coincidence.

If the RNC is involved in the production of these videos, it represents a pernicious shift in the party’s attitude. It was one thing to watch legions of Republicans change their tune on Trump after he won. It’s another to watch the GOP tacitly endorse the idea that actual news broadcasts are fake, and only propaganda is real. Say what you will about the disintegration of longstanding norms in American politics. Up until last week, both parties at least gave lip service to the distinction between journalism and politics. That’s over now for the GOP.

One presumes the Democrats will respond by producing their own, slightly less audacious “real news” program hosted by Mark Zuckerberg. I guess I should be numb by now, but it’s still unsettling to see naked propaganda from the president and his party billing itself as news. I feel as though we have violated some longstanding condition in the social contract, whereby we agreed to distinguish between fact and opinion. Probably we crossed that line long ago and have just gotten around to making videos about it. But this real news feels surreal, like a scene in a science fiction movie or some viral video from North Korean state television. It’s weird that making America great again involves making it awful in ways it never was before.

Say, what’s in the real news?

Lara Trump explains that a kid who works in the lodge could never ski faster than Eric.

Remember when we coined the phrase “fake news” to describe the proliferation of hoax stories on social media? That genie got out of the bottle fast. The term meant “made-up reports” for about two weeks before Trumpsters coopted it entirely. Now “fake news” is their term for any item critical of the president, including factual reporting of events by legacy news organizations. They prefer “real news,” i.e. statements from people who are not journalists, disseminated by flacks who hold the very idea of objectivity in contempt. It took about six months to get from “watch out for hoaxes” to the assertion that only propaganda is real. Step one was to classify actual events that reflect poorly on the president as “fake news.” Step two is this:

Let’s talk about the things that make this news real:

  1. It is devoted to reporting good things about one subject.
  2. The reporter is the subject’s daughter-in-law.
  3. It contains no interviews with or quotes from anyone else.
  4. It is not broadcast on a news network.

Compare this shot of reality to last week’s reports that multiple people got fired from the White House staff, Obamacare repeal died in the senate, and the president has been asking people if he can legally pardon himself. All that stuff is fake. This video does not mention it explicitly, but we know it’s fake because it distracts us from appreciating the president. Lara Trump implies it with her very first sentence, “I bet you haven’t heard about all the accomplishments the president had this week, because there’s so much fake news out there.”

This statement sets up a weird dichotomy. It’s not as though knowing the Mooch got fired prevents you from knowing that the Dow has reached an all-time high, but Reporter Trump implies that you either know President Trump is doing a great job or you’ve fallen victim to fake news. That news is fake not because investigation shows it didn’t really happen, but merely because Trump fans refuse to listen to it. This is an extremely bracing way to think about the distinction between “real” and “fake.”

Another difference between fake news and the real news, though, is that the real news is not new. This video reports that President Trump continues to donate his salary, unemployment continues to be low, and the Dow continues to be high. One problem with the plan to replace the fake news of sourced reporting and reputable outlets with real news from the wife of the president’s kid is that it doesn’t really satisfy people’s appetite for fresh information about what just happened, i.e. the “news” of the world. It’s weird that Trump & Trump’s Real News would not try to replicate the reporting that most people agree is the lifeblood of what they call fake news.

But maybe they don’t think of it that way. Maybe Trumpworld looks at the Washington Post and the New York Times and determines that their signature feature is not comprehensive reporting on breaking events, but rather stuff that makes Trump look bad. Compare this to their own product, stuff that makes Trump look good. It seems fatuous, but maybe once you commit to approaching all knowledge as instrumental—not as a way to understand the world but as a way to wield power—you kind of forget how truth smells. If you only care about the score, the ref seems like another player. Why not compete with him?

Lara Trump’s real news is a dispatch from a world where the Washington Post is propaganda, too. The more one tries to parse the logic of Trumpworld, the more one suspects that it is not about lying so much as denying the distinction between truth and lies. The question of whether a statistic is accurate or a story really happened is orthogonal to the terms “real” and “fake” as Trumpworld uses them. Pointing out that what they call “fake news” actually happened is like saying the symphony is oblong. That President Trump is making America great again is their only claim of fact, and they take it as an article of faith. All other realness flows from there.

Gianforte avoids jail time for assaulting reporter, now supports free press

Greg Gianforte cuts a promo for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

On Monday, Gallatin County Justice Court sentenced Greg Gianforte to 40 hours of community service for assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. Judge Rick West also ordered the representative-elect to complete 20 hours of anger management classes. Gianforte has pled guilty, apologized to Jacobs, and pledged to donate $50,000 to Committee to Protect Journalists. In court, he described the assault as follows: “I grabbed his wrist. A scuffle ensued, and he was injured, as I understand it.”

That’s accurate, I guess, but it is phrased in a way that minimizes his responsibility. A “scuffle ensued” when Gianforte attacked Jacobs. “He was injured” by Gianforte. It is good that the representative-elect understands that, since he is the one who did it. This statement suggests that Gianforte has learned his lesson, and the lesson is that he can assault a reporter and suffer no meaningful consequences for his actions.

His party has learned a lesson, too. According to McClatchy, Republicans across the country are planning to make 2018 a “referendum on the media” by “embracing conflict with local and national journalists, taking them on to show Republicans voters that they, just like the president, are battling a biased press corps out to destroy them.” That’s exciting. I think it’s a stretch to say a biased press corps is out to destroy Republican voters, though. The problem with this strategy is that it assumes voters also view press coverage as an obstacle to their agenda, when the press is how voters learn what politicians are up to.

Here’s a timely example of how the press and voters are actually on the same side. In the hours after Gianforte assaulted Jacobs, his campaign released a statement claiming that the “liberal journalist” grabbed Gianforte and caused them both to fall. That wasn’t true. Gianforte threw Jacobs to the ground and punched him. The accurate version of events only came out because a Fox News crew was in the room at the time. Through his spokesman, Shane Scanlon, Gianforte lied to voters. He then refused to speak to reporters for the next 24 hours, throughout election day, evidently hoping his campaign’s false statement would hold up long enough for Montanans to vote.

Never forget that Rep. Gianforte’s endgame was to get elected based on false information. He lied to voters and stonewalled the press. There is no reason to believe he thinks we are all in this together against the fake news. He is the fake news. You can read all about in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Poll finds The Onion only slightly less credible than Breitbart

“Each” is singular, you guys. The question in the poll whose results are pictured above should be “How credible is each of the following?” Informal polling finds me unpopular, still. But this formal poll from the Morning Consult brand-tracking company finds that, despite widespread abuse of the phrase “fake news,” most people still think mainstream news outlets are believable. Sixty-three percent of those polled, for example, rated The New York Times as “credible” or “very credible.” It’s kind of terrifying that a third of respondents don’t trust the longest-established journalistic institution in the United States, and the write-up suggests that this portion is larger than it has been historically. But the overall lesson to be taken from these admittedly months-old numbers is that President Trump’s gaslighting re: news has not succeeded in turning Americans against the media.

You may have noticed a more interesting nugget at the bottom of the chart, though. A combined 19 percent of poll respondents said Breitbart was a credible source for news. That’s only one point higher than the percentage of respondents who said the same thing about The Onion, an explicitly satirical venture trafficking in obviously made-up stories. The Onion beats InfoWars, which I thought was implicitly satirical until about 18 months ago. But Breitbart is a horse of a different color. It puts “news” right in its name, and its former executive chair is now the White House chief strategist. That this nominal news organization would enjoy the same credibility as The Onion is astounding, given its influence.

But here we encounter the misleading elements of polls, which are—dare I say it?—kind of fake news. You will notice that the “credible” and “not credible” numbers for these outlets don’t add up to 100 percent. The missing portion comprises people who have never heard of the outlet in question.

For instance, 42% of respondents said they had never heard of Breitbart, which is heartening. According to the crosstabs, 32% have never heard of The Onion, and another 15% said they had heard of it but had no opinion of its credibility. One presumes that a significant number of these respondents knew it it was satirical and therefore found the question of its credibility irrelevant. While we’re presuming stuff, the spike in The Onion’s credibility among 30- to 44-year-olds might be attributable to smartassery.

Anyway, The Onion and Breitbart may not be comparably trusted so much as comparably unknown. That, too, is terrifying, given the enormous popularity of one and the enormous shittiness of the other. But the larger epistemological point—that we should not take this poll to mean that people trust Breitbart about as much as they trust The Onion—holds up. Polls mislead. Also, 17% of the country has never heard of the Wall Street Journal. What a time to be alive.

Close Reading: Trump’s “not” joke

Remember a few months ago when we said Combat! blog wasn’t going to be about politics anymore? That was before a cartoon character got elected president. Not the good kind of cartoon character, either—Donald Trump is like a character in one of those nineties cartoons where everyone is bored and sarcastic. He’s the guy who doesn’t move the plot forward but says what we’re all thinking, i.e. what a marketing team thinks children are thinking. In that vein, the President of the United States executed a “not” joke on Twitter yesterday:

 


Although he does not play the “not” joke strictly according to Hoyle, this tweet is a significant achievement. He manages to make “not!” into a Trumpian exclamation. But there’s a lot of other stuff going on, too, and that’s why this tweet is the subject of today’s Close Reading.

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