DEMOCRATS BELIEVE IN WHAT IS CALLED ENLIGHTENMENT REASONING — THAT IF YOU TELL PEOPLE THE FACTS, THEY’LL REACH THE RIGHT CONCLUSION. THAT JUST ISN’T TRUE.
But if the president spreads malicious lies, those lies have consequences. Take the recent shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. Trump helped popularize a conspiracy theory about George Soros funding a caravan of illegal immigrants, and an extremist took that claim seriously and acted on it. Isn’t that a strong case for why we have to expose or challenge lies?
I totally understand, but simply exposing the lie about the Soros conspiracy theory doesn’t work, because to call it a lie is to repeat it, to repeat the content, which strengthens it in people’s brains. If I say don’t think of an elephant, you think of an elephant.
So how exactly should the media have responded in this case to the Soros conspiracy theory tweeted by the president?
By not reporting it.
Not one bit.
George LakoffThere’s another possibility. Journalists could engage in what I’ve called “truth sandwiches,” which means that you first tell the truth; then you point out what the lie is and how it diverges from the truth. Then you repeat the truth and tell the consequences of the difference between the truth and the lie. If the media did this consistently, it would matter. It would be more difficult for Trump to lie.
When news organizations hand a megaphone to lies — or liars — they do actual harm. What the president himself says must be reported, of course, but only within the context of what we know. To state it without immediate, adjacent reference to factual reality is to enter the Kellyanne Zone. In an era rife with disinformation — and American democracy teetering on a precipice — that’s the wrong place to be.