At the moment, the war President Trump has declared against the media is a war of words. It’s a war in which he now intends to deploy his ultimate weapon: public opinion. Or should I say the opinion of the minority portion of the public that takes his side whatever it is he says.
To these supporters he sent out an e-mail Thursday declaring “you, the American people . . . our last line of defense against the media’s hit jobs” and asking them to take the “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey to do your part to fight back against the media’s attacks and deceptions.” The survey is a series of 25 skewed questions on “our movement” that sometimes verge on incomprehensibility.
My favorite is question 22:
“Do you believe that if Republicans were obstructing Obama like Democrats are doing to President Trump, the mainstream media would attack Republicans?”
It’s easy to sneer at this question by pointing out that Republicans did obstruct Obama for eight years. The Merrick Garland Supreme Court nomination that went nowhere—cited here by AOL—is scoffers’ favorite example.
But the scoffing misses the point. Everyone knows about the Garland nomination. What the question actually is getting at is this: “Now that the Democrats are doing to Trump what the Republicans did to Obama, will the mainstream media attack the Democrats the way they attacked the Republicans?”
The survey poses this question in a way that makes no literal sense but sounds a lot better to true believers. It frames Democratic obstruction as real and Republican obstruction as hypothetical even though the truth is closer to being the other way around.
Then there’s this question: “Do you believe that contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs?” Yes or no. And while you might respond no because no it doesn’t you might also answer yes because yes I do believe. Either no one stopped to think about this ambiguity or, more likely, no one cared.
The whole thing’s pretty silly. Here’s my concern: Looking for the Mainstream Media Accountability Survey, I came across the commentary of Jay Willis of GQ. And Willis, who may simply have had a bad day, violated my most bedrock assumption about the War Against the Media—which is that the media has the huge advantage of being the side with a sense of humor.
Without that weapon, the media can sound as oafish as the enemy. And let me repeat some of Willis’s observations:
“Six-year-old zoo attendees with questions about giraffes have put together better sentences than this.”
“‘If.’ Haha. ‘If.’ [Pounding my head against the desk.]” (That’s what Willis has to say about question 22.)
The survey’s a “crock of shit.”
Is the sheer volume of preposterous words and deeds out of the Trump White House beginning to exceed the capacity of nimble ridicule to keep up? If so, it’s a time to worry. The difference between the two sides in the War Against the Media goes deeper than real news versus fake news. It’s the difference between derisive and incisive, between grunts and wit.