The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was one of many, probably most, newspapers in America today that illustrated a weakness of journalism in the Trump era.
Donald Trump held a news conference. He announced something. The announcements were duly reported as he characterized them. Problem: As with most Trump pronouncements they smelled of bullshit.
The Democrat-Gazette story detailed some of the manure on the jump of its story on page 10A. But as many commentators noted, Trump still got the headline he wanted. It was even worse on TV, particularly the local news channel I watch, which characterized Trump’s announcement as good news for the oppressed of America with none of the asterisks.
Some of the problems with Saturday’s announcement:
Trump likely doesn’t have the legal authority to spend money unilaterally. At its best, his unemployment benefit plan is a 33 percent cut in the support that had been provided. He also wants states to pay a fourth of it, an amount states can’t or won’t pay (see for the latter Arkansas, whose legislators believe only they are entitled to pay for doing nothing.)
The extension of the eviction moratorium was couched in aspirational terms, not an order. It provides no moratorium. Indeed, several of the so-called executive orders were essentially memos, not orders at all. The Washington Post explains.
A payroll tax moratorium is no benefit to anyone not being paid. And for those who are being paid, it is just a postponement of payments due later. Also, his talk of a permanent end to the payroll tax would spell an end to Social Security and Medicare without another source of financial support.
It was another illustration of a continuing dilemma for news presenters. The Trump fact-checking is getting way better. But the exaggerations and misinformation still dominate the headlines and broadcast news summaries. How many of the D-G’s remaining 35,000 subscribers (once a quarter-million strong on Sunday, speaking of another pressing problem with newspaper journalism today) read through to page 10A? I know. A good 40 to 50 percent of them won’t believe ill of Trump regardless.
A smattering of comments from Twitter on the problem:
Trump has figured out that he can make absurd proclamations that cannot come to pass, and the media will repeat them.
Even if journalists include an explanation that he cannot legally accomplish what he proclaims, Trump gets the headline.
Please stop rewarding this deception.
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) August 8, 2020
These are not, on the whole, great ways to say “Trump, claiming unprecedented power to bypass laws and Congress, signs order to defund Social Security and Medicare” pic.twitter.com/pNvgrbUrpN
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) August 8, 2020
I’m normally against headline scolding but the news coverage has been a little too credulous toward the idea that the president’s executive orders will have their announced effects.
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) August 9, 2020