Sunday, April 9, 2017

Who's Doing the Stumping Here?

One of the most debated questions concerning Trump and the media is to what degree is Trump strategically manipulating the press? Some commentators were noting way back in the early part of the primary season that Trump was either very lucky or very cunning. His energetic supporters routinely refer to him as playing "5D Chess" against the media. On the other hand, many today are still convinced he is a mindless buffoon and any perceived brilliance is just the observers Rorshach projection onto Trump's twitter-vomitblots.

These divergent interpretations were strongly tested recently in regards to his wiretapping tweets. The whole plot was wonderful. The media reported for months that Trump had been wiretapped, and ran with revelations said to have arisen from surveillance, Flynn's communications with the Russian ambassador being the most significant. After Trump tweeted that he was being wiretapped, the media flipped the script, called it ridiculous, Politifact quickly gave it a Mostly False rating, and the New York Times even took the Orwellian step of modifying the online archives of a relevant headline. Here's a situation where the two Trump viewpoints can both be validated. On the hand, Trump's tweet is brilliant, because it forced the media into blatant self-contradictions obvious to anyone with some sense of rationale left in them. On the other hand, it really could just be that Trump heard he was being spied on and immediately tweeted to calm his aggravated amygdala. He tweeted about it because he was upset at that particular moment, not because of any calculated political strategy.

The incident doesn't give us any resolution. Did Trump stump the media, or did they stump themselves? Did they fall into a Trump trap, or is their reporting so riddled with absurdity that any idiot with a prominent Twitter account can inadvertently expose it?

A more recent incident shows that the media is perfectly capable of stumping itself without Trump's help. The media was proud to tell us that Obama was a "big winner" in dealing with Syria, and successfully forced Assad to hand over all his chemical weapons. That was something of a ruse. In reality, the US was making possessions and use of chemical weapons by Assad as a pretext to war. They got little support for the action domestically and from allies (has everyone forgotten about Obama and Kerry trying to rally the country to war?), and it was the Russians who swooped in with the diplomatic arrangement that made it difficult for the US to justify invasion. But in either case they reported that Obama got all the chemical weapons removed.

So it should seem quite unlikely that, following reports of chemical agents being release in Syria, the media would simply assume without question that Assad was the culprit. These are the same people that assured us that Obama took care of the problem. It set us up for another one of those great national questions where any answer paints the media as incompetent or deceitful. Either
  1. They were wrong and Obama wasn't really a "big winner" in regards to the Syrian weapons, or
  2. They wrong now and jumping to a dangerously rash conclusion.
It seems to me that if Trump was playing 5D Chess he would not have let the media off the hook so easily. He could have manipulated the situation in such a way to clearly demonstrate that Obama's alleged accomplishments were a ruse, and the media doesn't do its job. But Trump wasn't playing politics with this one. He became convinced that Assad was the culprit, despite strong arguments that he likely wasn't, and acted quickly and the little regard for legal concerns.

The response by the media to all this has been enthusiastic. Trump may turn out to be the kind of president the establishment cherishes most: a warmonger. At the time of this writing (Sunday night) the top article in my Google News feed is Tillerson, on Eve of Trip, Takes a Hard Line With Russia from the New York Times. A search for the term Russia makes hardly a mention of the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory, with the only references being somewhat indirect, discussing the roles of Nunes and Schiff in the matter. Gone is the wild-eyed hand-wringing about collusion, secret servers, covert "backchannels", rigged elections, treason, and Trump being a Russian puppet; in short, all the media has railed about for months has suddenly vanished. Was this the result of 5D Chess by Trump? Can we really label doing exactly what the establishment wants you to do as 5D Chess?

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