Donald Trump is once again demonstrating how to turn a blatant lie, an invented non-scandal, into an influential story.
And he has a potent tool to accomplish it: the mainstream media.
In 2016, it was Hillary Clinton’s emails.
In 2020, it’s “Obamagate.”
“There’s no point in unpacking this theory here because it’s bullshit and everyone knows it,” writes Vox’s Sean Illing, who then adds what he calls “the simplest version possible”:
“‘Deep state’ holdovers from the Obama administration allegedly spearheaded the prosecution of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as part of a broader scheme to undermine the Trump presidency.”
That’s it. But what is Trump actually accusing President Obama of doing?
He’s unwilling, or incapable, of making that clear, although he’s obviously obsessed with demolishing anything his predecessor accomplished.
Indeed, even Trump may not know what he’s talking about; reporters have asked him to explain and he responds either by accusing Obama of being “grossly incompetent” without details, or beating a hasty retreat.
But Trump repeatedly mentions the supposed scandal, saying without evidence that Obama and Joe Biden were somehow tied to what he claims was “the biggest political crime in American history, by far!’” says the Guardian.
It’s worth noting that Attorney General William Barr said on Monday that he does not expect the Justice Department to pursue criminal investigations of Obama or Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.
Yet, as Illing puts it, Trump keeps right on “flooding the zone with shit.”
Which keeps “Obamagate” in the headlines, creating an illusion of reality where none actually exists.
“It’s becoming clear that journalists never fully reckoned with the mistakes of 2016 campaign coverage. We know this because they seem poised to repeat them,” Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote on Monday.
“As you may recall, the news media — from Fox News to the New York Times and plenty of others across the political spectrum — managed to make the relative molehill of Hillary Clinton’s dicey email practices into a daily obsession, roughly equal to the mountain of Donald Trump’s financial and personal transgressions.”
“Well, don’t look now but this is happening again before our eyes,” Sullivan says.
Yes, we’ve seen all this before — yet the power of the presidency is such that journalism find it impossible to ignore.
“Watching the media pounce on this story like greyhounds chasing mechanical rabbits has been painful, but also deeply familiar,” writes Illing on Vox.
“It’s a pattern we’ve seen unfold countless times. The president unleashes a tweetstorm, millions of people retweet it, right-wing media boosts the signal, and then mainstream media outlets cover it, often breathlessly.”
Illing says journalism is struggling with an utterly changed “information landscape” in this digital age, which overwhelms people with information — whether true, false, or deliberately misleading.
“Trying to cover every crazy story, every batshit claim, is a fool’s errand,” Illing writes.
“The end result of so much noise is what I’ve called ‘manufactured nihilism,’ a situation in which people are so skeptical about the possibility of truth that they give up the search.”