Now that we are past the immediate fallout over Sean Spicer’s weekend lie-stravaganza about Inauguration crowd numbers, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the intentions behind, and effect of, Spicer’s stunt.
Since the time Spicer marched out almost shouting at reporters, conservatives have been debating this question: which should we be more upset about right now? Spicer’s performance on Saturday? Or eight years of media bias against Republicans and in favor of Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats?
You want a hot take? Here it is, scorching hot and spicy: we should be more upset at Spicer, at least right now — precisely because of the last eight years of media bias.
That’s a controversial statement — or at least I hope it is! We’re going for a take that is en fuego here. So let me explain by first taking a Giant Step Backward so we can see the Bigger Picture.
It’s impossible to understand what Spicer did except through the lens of eight years of Big Media swooning over Barack Obama.
The infatuation began during Obama’s 2008 campaign. He was the Lightworker. Chris Matthews got a tingle in his leg. David Brooks was impressed by the crease of Obama’s pant leg. Is all this sounding familiar?
Surveys showed that overwhelming numbers of journalists voted for Obama — no surprise, as surveys always show that journalists are overwhelmingly of the left. And their coverage showed it. Hugely inflated estimates of the number of uninsured were touted to push Obama’s health care law, while concerns about it costing too much or jeopardizing people’s coverage were pooh-poohed by the same fact-checkers who refused to rate “true” a claim by Ted Cruz that the tax code has more words than the Bible, and even rated “false” a claim by Carly Fiorina (I went from secretary to CEO) — both claims that were factually 100% true
If Democrats ever had a valid complaint about bad behavior by Republicans, the story would be about the Republicans’ bad behavior. But if Republicans had a valid complaint about bad behavior by Democrats, the Big Media version of the story would focus on how Republicans “seized” on the Democrats’ behavior for political advantage. And like clockwork, talking heads would immediately begin speculating about whether Republicans would “overreach.”
And citizens concerned about the coarsening of our culture, threats to our constitutional rights of gun ownership, or the disappearance of morality from the public square were characterized by Our Media Betters (and Obama) as ignorant, ball-scratching hayseeds, “bitterly clinging” to our guns and religion.
You can treat half the voting public with this level of scorn and contempt for only so long, before they say: enough is enough.
Many on the right have been waiting for someone on the right to push back, and push back hard, against the bias in media. When Ted Cruz, in one of the Republican debates, took the moderator to task for a series of biased questions, the excitement in the room was palpable. Conservatives across the country rose to their feet in front of their television sets and began applauding and cheering in their living rooms, while their kids cast sidelong looks at each other and said: “Dad’s going crazy again.”
That’s what it was like in my household, anyway.
Conservatives think we need pushback against the media — and we are right.
This sort of thinking, I am certain, was behind the extraordinary aggression towards the media shown by Sean Spicer (and subsequently, on “the shows,” by Reince Priebus) this past weekend. Had Spicer stuck to his valid complaint about a bogus story from a snide Big Media loudmouth regarding a bust of MLK being removed from the Oval Office (it hadn’t been), Spicer would have deserved the standing O that we all gave Cruz during that moment in the debates.
But of course, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft a-gley when Donald Trump gets involved.
Butthurt over the fact that Obama’s (Inauguration crowd) was way bigger than his, Trump dispatched Spicer to tell a pack of lies. After all, angry and oft-repeated lies worked for Trump in the campaign. Why not as President?
Here’s the problem: by sending out Spicer to scream about the press about a trivial issue while getting all the facts wrong, Trump has undermined years’ worth of legitimate criticism of the media by conservatives. Now, when we talk about Big Media bias, and try to make the case to undecided voters that they should reject slanted stories from the giant newspapers and networks, Big Media can simply point to Spicer’s press conference as an object example of how all of our complaints are (supposedly) bogus.
The stupid way Spicer came out swinging over nonsense, with all the facts against him, shows he is willing to be loyal to Trump — but not, unfortunately, to the truth.
Fundamentally, it’s wrong to stand at the White House podium and tell stupid, provable lies (or, in the memorable words of Kellyanne Conway, “alternative facts”).
But behind that, it’s hard for me to believe that this is an effective way to win over undecided voters. Smashing your own credibility is not usually thought to be an effective communications strategy.
This is reversible, in theory, if Spicer and the rest of Trump’s communications team start to elevate their fealty to the truth over their loyalty to Trump.
I said “in theory.”
[UPDATED to note Ted Cruz’s claim regarding the Bible and the tax code was not rated “false” — a fact-checker just refused to rate it true.]