In other words, if you haven’t heard of me or my servants, this is not true.
Chico Marx memorized a similar idea in the 1933 comedy “Duck Soup”: “Who are you going to believe – me or your own eyes?”
It’s an astounding notion, especially given Trump’s proven propensity for lies and lies. But now, as a deadly disease, the coronavirus is threatening to turn into a full-blown pandemic, it’s not just weird in a way that can be easily dismissed. It’s not just Trump being Trump.
And it is certainly not funny. It’s dangerous.
Trump and his chosen spokespeople are trying to greatly minimize the severity of the coronavirus and blame the legitimate media for doing their job of publicizing it.
In reporting what Trump has to say, the media has a heavy responsibility not to repeat and amplify his misleading twist – one that may serve his political interests but is not in the public interest.
However, it is not always easy for mainstream journalists to put his demands in the right context.
After all, it had always been normal to let a president speak – to let his statements take precedence over the news while letting the facts follow.
This has changed somewhat during the Trump administration, but not enough. The reflexive media desire, deep in our DNA, is always to quote the president without offering an immediate challenge.
This is why we continue to see titles and chyrons which directly parrot his words, as misleading as they are: that the virus will disappear, that it is not inevitable that the disease will spread, that a vaccine will arrive ` “ quickly ”, that the United States is “very, very ready” to deal with whatever is going on.
When journalists push back with fact checks or with dissenting sources from the world of science and medicine, Trump and the administration attack the messengers. Sometimes this takes the form of derogatory tweets like Wednesday’s in which he accused the MSNBC and CNN cable networks of “panicky markets” and in which he boasted “The United States is in great shape!”
His most trusted allies are there with him – accusing mainstream media of using viral coverage to try to overthrow the president.
A few months ago, I wrote about the prescription of linguist George Lakoff to deal with the President’s false statements and lies, an approach that is known as the “truth sandwich”.
Rather than leading with the lie and trying to demystify it, Lakoff – an expert on how propaganda works – suggested reversing this formula: Lead with the truth, spread the lie, and then follow the facts.
Avoid putting out the lies, he advises. Do not put them in titles, tracks or tweets. It is this same amplification that gives them power, even if they are declared false the next beat.
Of course, this recommendation goes directly against the usual functioning of information. Traditionally, we have focused on the words of senior officials and then tempered them with fact checks.
Too often, Lakoff told me, the media “have become accomplices of Trump by allowing himself to be used as an amplifier for his lies and images.” And this is true even when journalists make lists of lies. It’s repetition and importance that do the harm.
Trump’s tendency to make claims independent of reality becomes a recipe for disaster when combined with his disdain for scientists, medical experts, intelligence officials, journalists and others who deal with factual reality.
Add to the dangers of an illness that is rapidly approaching pandemic proportions, and it is becoming more important than ever to focus on truthful information rather than false spins.
I am convinced that we, the media, with all our obvious shortcomings, have learned some things about Trump’s cover in the last four years. Now would be a great time to put it into practice.