Immunizing Fake News

Originally published 6/13/2017 at American Thinker

In case you haven’t heard the latest report of calamity in and around the oval office, Politico had a story up Sunday headlined “Trump gives Priebus until July 4th to clean up White House.”

Of course, the mainstream media and their internet-only tributaries like Politico have been giving us such stories ever since way back in June of 2015, when the president first announced his intention to run.  If you’re looking to refresh your memory, or merely for a good laugh, Google “Republicans allowed to replace Trump.”  You’ll see a long list of articles from the election with headlines like “What if Trump drops out?” from the August 4, 2016 L.A. Times, or “Trump Says He’ll Never Quit Presidential Race, But GOP Exodus Has Begun” from the October 8, 2016 New York Magazine.  My personal favorite is Mother Jones’s August 3 headline, “#ReplaceTrump? Sorry, Republicans, You’re Stuck With Him.”  As are you now, poor, dear, deluded Mrs. Jones.  It turns out that a more accurate headline would have been “Something is happening, but we don’t know what it is.”

The story from Politico yesterday shared another feature with many previous bogus stories about the administration – namely, a good old reliance on “anonymous White House sources.”  No need to stretch your memory to come up with other examples this time.  Just last week, James Comey gave us a fake news trifecta, testifying before congress that CNN, ABC, and the NYT had all run bogus stories based on alleged anonymous resources.

And the Priebus story followed the by now familiar pattern when Press Secretary Sean Spicer immediately, vehemently, and categorically denied the alleged sources’ charge: “Whoever is saying that is either a liar or out of the loop or a liar.”

So you’d think it’d be a good bet that, come July 4, we will find out that the Politico story can be added to the list of fake news stories that have been run to damage the president.  But this time, you’d be wrong.  For even if the future resembles the past and this story again turns out to be “almost entirely wrong” (as Comey testified of the NYT piece), Politico appears to have developed a couple of new and remarkable wrinkles on the old-fashioned “anonymous source” smear.

For one, they give us absolutely no idea whatsoever of what the alleged ultimatum itself actually is.  We’re told there’s a “deadline of July 4 for a shakeup of the White House” and that “Trump berated Priebus” and gave him “a fair chance to clean up shop.”  But, remarkably, that’s it!  We’re never given even the slightest hint of what “the shakeup” and “cleaning up shop” entail or any clue of what the president “berated” Priebus for.

In effect, we’re told that an ultimatum was given but told nothing of its content.  This omission deprives the piece of any real interest.  However, since very few people will read past the headline anyway, Politico probably doesn’t have to worry too much about anyone noticing.  And the unlikely to be noticed loss of interest is more than amply made up for by making the story almost irrefutable.  Since we’ve no idea what the alleged ultimatum consists of, we can’t know whether it’s been met come July 4.

But that isn’t the only way in which Politico has immunized itself against its alleged sources turning out unreliable.  Nine paragraphs in, we’re also told:

Talk of Trump’s July 4th deadline has made the rounds in the White House, but insiders and those close to the president are not holding their breath, given the perpetual talk that Priebus and other senior staffers are on the way out.

Not only do we not know what the alleged ultimatum was, but it turns out that our anonymous sources have conveniently told us they don’t expect it to be carried out anyway.  So even if we had some way of knowing that Priebus failed to meet it, if he’s not fired on July 4, we still have no proof of fake news since the sources themselves tell us Trump isn’t serious!

The political story is almost entirely without content.  A truer headline would have been “Anonymous Sources Say Trump Might Fire Priebus, Doesn’t Really Mean It.”  But the lack of content doesn’t preclude Politico’s headlining the piece in a way that makes the administration look as if it’s in trouble.  By getting rid of that pesky content, voilà: no one has to worry about ever being proven wrong.

So kudos to Politico!  It’s taken us one step closer to that happy day when stories, and even assertion of specific fact, will be eliminated entirely.  Someday, and it isn’t too far off, the mainstream news will consist entirely of slogans deriding President Trump.  We’ll have headlines like “Trump Did Something Evil Again” and “Lots More People Say Terrible Things about Trump” or maybe even just “Boo Trump!,” sans any of those distracting stories and their annoyingly refutable details.  That is, after all, what we’ve in effect been getting for the last two years.  So, it’s very nice to see that they’ve begun to drop the pretense.


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