Brian Stelter explained yesterday on his program, Reliable Sources, President-Elect Donald Trump’s media strategy: deny, conflate, and confuse.
Trump, along with his advisers and public surrogates, have since the election interacted with the press by denying all suspicion and evidence of wrongdoing, conflating the developing Dossier Scandal and its tributary controversies with categorically false counter-claims and character assassinations (as well as accusations of being “over-rated”), and confusing the American citizenry’s ability to distinguish journalistic fact from Trumpian fiction.
The strategy has been successful thus far—it got Trump elected—but media companies are beginning to focus more attention to standing up to Trump’s conspicuous aversion to facts since Trump has begun to threaten the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press.
Trump’s strategy was on full display in the aftermath of BuzzFeed’s controversial decision to publish the #GoldenShowers memo (though the more Trump and his administration interfere with investigations into the dossier’s allegations, the more it seems BuzzFeed made the right call), and CNN, which had chosen not to publish the document, reported on BuzzFeed’s publishing decision.
As Stelter demonstrated with a video collage, the Trump Administration first denied the scandal’s allegations that he was executively compromised by Russian intelligence and connected to alarming financial conflicts of interest. Trump claimed on Twitter he had no business deals at all in Russia, though he of course can’t prove such a claim until he discloses his tax returns. Trump has chosen not to disclose, however, after previously claiming he would. Hence, the suspicion that Trump is lying and that there is continuing journalistic potential to unearth concrete conflicts of interest. It is of course extremely difficult to either prove or disprove the claim that Russia has blackmail-able kompromat on Trump.
Then Trump conflated real journalism with gossip and sensationalism, sowing seeds of doubt in the perception of the Trump Administration’s motives on Russia foreign policy as per the unfolding Dossier Scandal. Trump even directly called CNN “fake news,” and refused to answer a CNN question at his press conference last week. His surrogates in press interviews, particularly senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, conflated the facts further with jumbled explanations confusingly disputing CNN’s published and verifiable record and even video evidence.
Stelter goes on, “Maybe team Trump wanted all of us talking about the media, and, you know, not about the implications of a foreign government claiming to have compromising information about a U.S. president.”
Once the information has been denied and misleadingly conflated, the Trump Administration has successfully achieved its strategy in confusing the citizenry and diverting attention away from evidence of scandal toward malicious attacks on media companies’ journalistic integrity.
Stelter than highlights a disheartening clip of CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto discussing the Trump Administration’s journalistic subterfuge.
“What I worry about is a broader issue,” Sciutto says, “which is a hostility to facts, right, and an effort, a concerted effort by Donald Trump and his team to call into question the very existence of facts, right, the very existence of nonpartisan news. […] And it seems to be part of its strategy to attack information it finds inconvenient or critical. That’s a problem for the way this country functions.”
Yikes. The real battle for journalistic integrity as well as presidential oversight begins on January 20th when Trump obtains full executive power.
Photo courtesy of CNN.