We broaden Glenn Kessler's pique: Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post's Fact Checker, has an important, valid complaint concerning Donald J. Trump.
Kessler was permitted to voice his complaint in Sunday's hard-copy Post. Each Sunday, Kessler is permitted to make his one hard-copy appearance of the week. During the rest of the week, his Fact Checker reports gather dust on line.
Kessler voiced a valid complaint. That said, we want to redirect and broaden his pique just a tad.
He started his complaint like this. This strikes us as perfectly accurate:
KESSLER (5/8/16): At the Fact Checker, we have often said we do not write fact checks to change the behavior of politicians. Fact checks are intended to inform voters and explain complicated issues.Kessler sounds a bit peckish there, but he notes a very important point:
Still, most politicians will drop a talking point if it gets labeled with Four Pinocchios by the Fact Checker or "Pants on Fire" by PolitiFact. No one wants to be tagged as a liar or misinformed, and we have found that most politicians are interested in getting the facts straight. So the claim might be uttered once or twice, but then it gets quietly dropped or altered.
But the news media now face the challenge of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president. Trump makes Four-Pinocchio statements over and over again, even though fact checkers have demonstrated them to be false. He appears to care little about the facts; his staff does not even bother to respond to fact-checking inquiries.
No major politician has ever misstated in the crazy, relentless way Donald J. Trump does. His relentless misstatements do create a "challenge" for the news media, just as Kessler says.
Here's the problem. As Kessler continued, he limited himself to the failures of TV news in the face of this challenge. What he says below is perfectly accurate. But he omits the failures of major newspapers, like his own Washington Post:
KESSLER (continuing directly): But, astonishingly, television hosts rarely challenge Trump when he makes a claim that already has been found to be false. For instance, Trump says he was against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but research by BuzzFeed found that he did express support for an attack. He said the White House even sent a delegation to tell him to tone down his statements -and we found that also to be false.We don't understand that account of what Trump said to Baier. Other than that, Kessler's indictment strikes us as perfectly accurate.
Yet at least a dozen television hosts in the past two months allowed Trump to make this claim and failed to challenge him. There is no excuse for this. TV hosts should have a list of Trump's repeated misstatements so that if he repeats them, as he often does, he can be challenged on his claims.
(On Thursday, Bret Baier of Fox News finally pressed Trump on his support for the Iraq War. "I said very weakly, well, blah, blah, blah, yes, I guess," Trump responded.)
It's true! TV hosts have given Trump a major pass concerning his claims about Iraq. We think of Anderson Cooper and Chuck Todd, but surely there are others.
Kessler calls their conduct "astonishing." Recalling the work of Cooper and Todd, we think that assessment is fair.
Here's the problem. Kessler fails to note the way major newspapers have also ducked this challenge. In our view, the failure of our major newspapers has been "astonishing" too.
In the rest of his column, Kessler reviews a few of the major howlers Trump continues to utter at will. He fails to note the way our big newspapers have given Trump a pass on this ongoing conduct.
Long ago, Trump's relentless misstatements should have formed the basis for front-page news reporting. Instead, big newspapers consign his parade of howlers to the ghetto of their on-line fact-check blogs.
Kessler is permitted to leave his cage once a week; his weekly hard-copy reports never reach the front page. Elsewhere, fact checks have to be viewed on line or they can't be viewed at all.
Might we place this current practice within the context of recent history? Four presidential cycles ago, the mainstream press corps spent twenty months pretending to be deeply concerned about a certain candidate's "problem with the truth."
How concerned was the mainstream press about that candidate's misstatements? So concerned that they kept inventing his misstatements and pretending he had made them! (Many of our liberal heroes were involved in this lengthy con.)
Sixteen years later, Candidate Trump really is spewing misstatements in an astonishing way. No one has ever spewed misstatements this way in the past—but now, the mainstream press corps doesn't much seem to care!
On the merits, Donald J. Trump's endless dissembling should qualify as front-page news. Kessler told the truth about TV news. Who is going to tell the truth about the Washington Post?