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Pundits and reporters specializing in media affairs (e.g., CNN’s Brian Stelter, NPR’s David Folkenflik) have applied the phrase “benefit of the doubt” to the decision of the major networks to give Donald Trump prime time for the purpose of lying about an imagined border crisis. On Tuesday they were suggesting that the networks really had no choice but to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, just in case he could actually make a case for his border wall. The networks themselves said that they faced an “ethical dilemma” in which they might have failed in their mission to report the news had they passed on Trump’s Oval Office show.

prime time trump

There was no "ethical dilemma" here for the networks. As Princeton's Eddie Glaude said on MSNBC, the ethical imperative here was to deny giving critical aid and support to a congenital liar and manipulator.

Bear in mind, these are the same networks that reported the accelerating rate of White House lying during these shutdown weeks, as in Sarah Sanders’ preposterous claim on Sunday that some 4000 people on the terrorist watch list were apprehended trying to cross the southern border (actual number: 6). These are the same networks that have reported for many months that the rate of unauthorized border crossings is way down, that experts who actually understand smart border security believe physical barriers don’t work, and that even conservative members of Congress whose districts lie along the border (e.g., Will Hurd of Texas) think Trump’s proposed barrier makes absolutely no sense.

These are the same networks, in brief, that know full well that the only “crisis” here is a self-inflicted political crisis for Trump (and to a lesser extent the human rights/humanitarian crisis created by his administration’s brutal treatment of the recent cohorts of Central American refugees).

But the networks gave Trump his unfiltered megaphone anyway. They did what Fox News already does so well as Trump’s Ministry of Propaganda.

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There was no “ethical dilemma” here for the networks. As Princeton’s Eddie Glaude said on MSNBC, the ethical imperative here was to deny giving critical aid and support to a congenital liar and manipulator. Following the Oval Office mendacity-fest with some fact checking and giving Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi some rebuttal time in no way mitigated the damage of giving Trump the main stage.

Yeah, yeah, yeah: a rebuff to Trump’s prime time demand would have enraged Trump diehards, but these folks already hate the “fake news” networks, so there was no real downside there.

Perhaps the most entertaining rebuttal came from Mike Pesca, host of Slate’s “The Gist” podcast, who, responding to the argument that research and anecdotal evidence both suggest that in the end whatever the president says won’t really make much of a difference in any case, said, “it’s like, well, we’ll fill the baby’s bottle with Mezcal, but don’t worry it IS good parenting because he’ll certainly spit it out if he even drinks it at all.”

So now, as a result of the networks’ pusillanimous submission to a dangerous man’s demand, the real crisis—let’s call it the Plot Against America—will not only continue but may conceivably grow far worse if Trump now feels emboldened to declare a national emergency in order to get his way.

peter laarman 2018

Peter Laarman
Religion Dispatches