By ZACH NOBLE
Donald Trump is a liar.
In an excellent, depressing read yesterday, Clare Malone peered down the rathole of American politics and probed why voters were embracing the golden-maned oligarch, despite his obvious and rampant lies.
“I think on the right we’ve been ignoring the mainstream media for years,” conservative think-tanker Matt Mayer told Malone, fingering the 2004 election cycle flameout of Dan Rather as a tipping point.
In that saga, conservatives learned to play mistrustful detective with media reports. In Rather’s case, Republican nosing-about showed that documents purportedly damning George W. Bush were actually fakes, but nowadays, Trump supporters take their suspicions to absurd lengths, defending, for instance, a man who has clearly been videotaped grabbing people.
Multiple reporters attested that Trump’s campaign manager yanked a female reporter by the arm, but Trump supporters refused to trust the media and went for homespun, Microsoft Paint-produced analyses instead.
In doing so, these voters are exhibiting the "backfire effect" that may well kill American democracy: misinformed voters, i.e. voters who think demonstrably false things are true, hold tighter to falsehoods when they are exposed to truth.
"People choose the facts they want now," you might say.
You can lay some of the blame for the current state of affairs at the feet of CBS and Rather for running with a sloppy report based on documents from an unreliable source.
You can lay some of the blame on Newsweek and the rest of the traditional media that, deliberately or no, let Matt Drudge get the Monica Lewinsky scoop.
You can lay some of the blame on the Associated Press for, with good intentions, striking the phrase "illegal immigrant" from news coverage in 2013 and thereby signalling to future Trump supporters that the media didn't care about protecting U.S. borders.
You can lay some of the blame on the many news outlets that refused to cover last summer's Planned Parenthood videos, even skeptically, thereby showing anti-abortion voters that they couldn't get the time of day from the media.
But mainly, you have to blame the people.
People who refuse to even consider evidence that challenges their preconceived assumptions, people who would trust the veracity of a typo-riddled email forward over a news report, people who pore over video frame-by-frame for the sole purpose of vindicating their "team."
Skepticism and inquiry are healthy. Diehard refusal to trust facts that contradict your political leanings is not.
"[W]herever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government," Thomas Jefferson once wrote (if you trust the Library of Congress as a source, that is).
When people are deliberately misinformed, democracy will fail.
Zach Noble is a journalist who has covered everything from the OPM hack to a rescue dog's retirement party. He's been wrestling to reconcile his bleeding heart Catholicism with his pragmatic libertarianism since that freshman year love affair with Ayn Rand. He tweets erratically as @thezachnoble.