Part 1—We see him and raise him one: There are only two slogans in American politics:
"Happy days are here again." Also, "It's time for a change."
Last Friday night, on CNN, Carl Bernstein said it's time for a change. More specifically, he said it's time for a change in the way the press covers Donald J. Trump.
Bernstein was speaking with Anderson Cooper, who definitely needs to change the way he covers Donald J. Trump. Cooper asked about Sean Spicer's latest disordered behavior as White House press spokesman.
In reply, Bernstein said this:
BERNSTEIN (3/17/17): Anderson, this is Donald Trump's M.O., as we know, and it's quite purposeful. And the real story here—and it's time for the press to maybe change our coverage a bit and look at what the real story is here, particularly cable television.According to Bernstein, it's time for the press to change its coverage of Donald J. Trump, especially cable news. According to Bernstein, CNN needs to do maybe an hour-long special on Trump's "compulsive lying."
The real story is that the President of the United States is a compulsive liar. And along with that, that this compulsive lying is taking place at a time when Mike Rogers has just pointed out the most important fact of all, that there is an FBI investigation that is closing in on some of Donald Trump's associates.
We don't know what the result of that investigation is going to be, but those of us who have been following it closely, and trying to learn about it, know that it is accelerated. It is going to be a major piece of news regardless of what it finds. And Donald Trump is trying to deflect us by making up these fabulist tales.
We need to start covering this president and his lying as a story unto itself. Maybe we need an hour special on presidential lying. Let's look at Bill Clinton and Lewinsky. Let's look at Richard Nixon. Let's look at president who have lied. But we are now in space with this president of the United States where we have never been, with a compulsive liar who uses untruth as a basic way of governance.
Compulsively, Bernstein mentioned the presidential lying of Bill Clinton with respect to Miss Lewinsky. Later in the segment, he expanded on his prescription:
BERNSTEIN: One quick other aspect is the smearing of Barack Obama. This goes along with the birtherism. This is the same person who has been doing this kind of thing. No other president that I think in our history has said the kinds of things about his predecessor that Donald Trump has now said about Barack Obama. "A sick man, a bad man," he called him. It's extraordinary.You've now seen everything Bernstein said on Cooper's program that evening.
All of this theater, and I think we have to look at this part as theater, is of a piece, which is why I'm suggesting that the press has to find a new way to cover this and look at what the real story is and what the threads are that run through it and that has to do with untruth and that also has to do with trying to deflect attention from what Mike Rogers is talking about, about this investigation.
We agree with Bernstein's basic idea. We too think it's time for a change! We think mainstream news orgs, especially cable, needs to make some changes in the way they cover Donald J. Trump.
Especially at CNN, we don't think that an hour-long special would likely suffice. If Cooper aired an hour-long special about Donald J. Trump's "compulsive lying," Jeffrey Lord would be prominently featured as part of a 900-member pundit panel.
Inevitably, the discussion would disintegrate in precisely the way it does every night on Cooper's program. For ourselves, we don't think Bernstein was thinking quite bigly enough.
We're also not sure that "compulsive lying" is necessarily the best way to go in covering Donald J. Trump. Is Trump involved in "compulsive lying?" Or is he engaged in something else, something which could be more dangerous?
One hour later last Friday night, Fareed Zakaria told Don Lemon that he wouldn't be inclined to second Bernstein's use of the L-bomb. Zakaria diagnosed President Trump in a different unflattering way:
ZAKARIA (3/17/17): I got into trouble during the campaign saying something about the president which I still think is true. I think the president is somewhat indifferent to things that are true or false. He has spent his whole life bullshitting, he has succeeded by bullshitting, he has gotten the presidency by bullshitting. It's very hard to tell somebody at that point that bullshit doesn't work because look at results, right?Zakaria didn't want to go with "liar." He was inclined to go with "bullshitter." He said it provided an easier explanation for Trump's behavior.
But that's what he does. He sees something, he doesn't particularly care if it's true or not. He just puts it out.
And then he puts something else out. And notice again what he did this press conference. When pushed on it, he doesn't take responsibility. "I wasn't saying that. I was just quoting somebody else." When you have the White House press secretary quote somebody to prove a point, you are endorsing that view.
LEMON: Carl Bernstein— I heard him say, on Anderson's program, that we should be doing stories on the president being a pathological liar. That's Carl Bernstein's words. Do you think the president is pathological?
ZAKARIA: I think there's clearly a pathological element to his behavior by which I mean, you know, quite strictly, that he almost can't control himself. I happen to know from having talked to some of the people around him, people have tried to stop him and he can't. So in that sense I think, I'm not going to go with the second word because, as I said, I think there is an easier explanation.
LEMON: Not a psychologist.
ZAKARIA: And in terms of the "liar," I mean.
That said, Zakaria doubled down on the powerful term "pathological." He seemed to say that Donald J. Trump can't control his own behavior. In our view, this is the more troubling aspect of Donald J. Trump's apparent profile, now that Donald J. Trump is the man in charge of the nuclear codes.
Is it time for a change in the press corps' coverage of Donald J. Trump? Zakaria offered no such suggestion. Bernstein proposed some fairly weak tea for cable news.
That said, we've been saying, for many years, that news orgs should treat it as news when major public figures mislead or misinform the public about significant matters. We've persistently said that such conduct should be treated as front-page news. That resembles what Bernstein was saying.
Is it time for a change ion the way the press covers Donald J. Trump? Since Bernstein was speaking on Cooper's program, we'll take a look this week at the Groundhog Day-flavored way that program covers Donald J. Trump on a nightly basis.
Plainly, it's time for a change on Cooper's program. But we'll also suggest that it's time for a change within our own liberal world.
It's commonly said that addicts can't start to change until they "hit rock bottom" and are able to acknowledge that fact. By our way of reckoning, we liberals hit rock bottom last year when we managed to lose an election to a disordered crackpot like Donald J. Trump.
As with the press corps, so too with us: it's time for decades of our own behavior to come under review. It's time for a change Over Here.
That said, we liberals are having a hard time acknowledging the fact that we hit rock bottom last year. In the manner of vintage tribal denial, we tend to think it's time for a change by everyone else, not so much by us.
In our view, it's time for a change in several broad spheres of American life. Before we return to Cooper's program, we'll take a quick look at Us.
Tomorrow: Paul Krugman's latest column. Also, the historical role of music men like Professor Harold Hill