At least until the election is over, major news outlets seem more like PR firms than, well, news outlets.
Recently, Donald Trump gave a speech to a veteran’s group and discussed the problem of post-traumatic stress disorder. In context, Trump’s comments would have been unremarkable; they followed the general formula that he and many other politicians have used effectively over the years: Discuss a problem, promise to fix it, and offer few details about how you actually plan to do so.
Out of context, Trump’s PTSD remarks became another fount of outrage. Instead of expressing concern about veteran’s health, Trump was alleged to be calling out veterans with PTSD for not being strong enough. Clearly, these two things are not at all the same. So how does this happen?
Reason’s Scott Shackford sheds some light on this subject in a new article out this week. He sees the problem as the growing trend of “disingenuous literalness” whereby reporters endeavor to take small phrases out of context, and then interpret them literally–in a way that often bears little resemblance to their original meaning. Trump’s PTSD comments are just the latest example.
Shackford’s piece is well worth a read–if only to get a better understanding of how so many obnoxious and improbable political headlines came to plague your social media feed. (You know what I’m talking about.) Anyway, here’s the link:
Why It Matters
Of course, taking words out of context is one of the oldest political tricks in the book. Politicians do it to each other all the time–which is one of many reasons the political debates have so little educational value. Inevitably, much of the proceedings consist of each candidate working to misrepresent their opponent’s ideas, rather than explain which ideas are best.
But what’s new in this cycle is how widespread this tactic is among journalistic outlets that still fancy themselves as objective. It’s almost unbelievable how many inane hit-pieces have been written this cycle, usually against Trump, using this approach: Take a few words out of context; interpret them as literally and uncharitably as possible; write about it at length.
So we had the alleged terror expert Peter Bergen tell us that, in fact, Obama is not the “founder of ISIS“. Phew, that was 500 words well spent.
And now Trump used the word “strong” in a paragraph about PTSD.
This approach to journalism is obviously annoying, and it’s also entirely unnecessary.
There is an almost endless supply of reasons to legitimately criticize Donald Trump; why would anyone feel the need to manufacture more?