“There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts.”
— Scottie Nell Hughes, conservative commentator and political editor at RightAlerts.com on NPR Wednesday.
Is truth the biggest casualty of the presidential election? Based on the discourse of the past few weeks, that would appear to be the case.
Take the quote above from Scottie Nell Hughes, someone who is considered a member of the news media for reasons that are not exactly clear. She has been, and remains, primarily a breathless defender and surrogate for President-elect Donald Trump.
During an interview with Diane Rehm on Wednesday on National Public Radio, Hughes defended Trump’s groundless Twitter claims that he won the Electoral College “in a landslide” and that he would have beaten Hillary Clinton in the popular vote were it not for “millions of people who voted illegally.” Later, our Twitter-pated president-elect further observed that there was “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California,” something that election officials in all three states have strongly refuted.
Respected author James Fallows, also a guest on the show, noted some of the president-elect’s more famous falsehoods, adding that “in contrast to all political coverage in my lifetime, even Richard Nixon, I think the starting point for most press coverage is that there’s no presumption that anything Donald Trump says is true.”
Shortly thereafter, Hughes responded with the gem of Orwellian logic quoted above, adding, “And so Mr. Trump’s tweet amongst a certain crowd — a large part of the population — are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some amongst him and his supporters (who) believe they have facts to back that up.”
But there are no facts to back them up. There is only a strong desire to believe that supporting facts exist, which appears to be, in Hughes’ view, self-authenticating.
The response by Glenn Thrush, senior political correspondent from Politico, was priceless and appropriate.
“First I’ve got to pick my jaw up off the floor here,” he said. “There are no objective facts? I mean, that is — that is an absolutely outrageous assertion.”
Not only is there no evidence of illegal voting in this election, Thrush said, but an exhaustive study by the Pew Research Center in 2012 found the number of proven incidents of vote fraud in this country are so few and far between that people have a far better chance “of being struck by lightning than voting illegally in an election.”
But Hughes refused to budge. And so it goes.
It’s episodes like this that have prompted some readers to ask what I think the next four years hold for the news media, how newspapers will respond to a president who has waged war against them for much of the past 18 months. These battles have included the revocation of press credentials from newspapers, including the Washington Post and New York Times, that offend him, threats to change the nation’s libel laws to free Trump up to sue newspapers into submission and, of course, name calling. He has referred to the media as “scum,” “lowlifes” and “worthless,” to name a few of his epithets.
Despite all that, I find the question about how newspapers will respond somewhat discouraging, if only for the fact that some seem to believe that the role of newspapers is pliable.