We’re now on day two of the latest media controversy to engulf Donald Trump, namely his insistence that he personally saw footage that featured “thousands” of American Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. For a time, Dr. Ben Carson even backed up Trump’s delusion by claiming that he had also seen the footage, a claim that was subsequently retracted by his campaign. For two days now, the media has been parsing Trump’s claim, which he now supports with an unsourced paragraph in an old Washington Post article that describes “law enforcement authorities” questioning people who were “allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops.”
The controversy is obviously a big deal to the media, and even has some predicting that this could be the thing that finally puts a dent in Trump’s poll numbers. On Tuesday’s Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski predicted that this could really hurt Trump:
“This is what could really hurt Trump. I mean if — he’s got to be smart and strong and correct, and if he’s not correct, when push comes to shove people will coalesce around a different candidate.”
This is hilarious on so many levels, starting with the notion that being “correct” means anything to Republican voters, who lap up GOP candidates’ weird fantasies like kittens with a saucer of milk. In this case, though, the media is blinding itself to the fact that Trump’s claim has more then enough truthiness to give him the cover he needs.
That old WaPo report, it has to be said, is pure bullshit. The reporters who wrote it have since said that they were unable to verify the allegation, but no one has questioned them on where it came from in the first place. Based on the lack of attribution, the only possibilities are that it was from some law enforcement source who insisted on deep background attribution (not likely given the broad nature of the claim), or it was from residents and/or local political figures who claimed knowledge of the incidents.
In any case, in the weeks following the attacks, literally everyone I ran into in New Jersey had a story about how they had personally seen the FBI or the cops raid their local convenience store/gas station/other business that happened to be owned by brown people, and that they knew for a fact the people scooped up in the raid had been plotting against America. People were scared shitless, and talking out of their asses.
For some reason, though, none of the coverage of Trump’s remarks has included the footage that Trump was probably talking about, footage that every American either saw or heard about that day and was deeply traumatized by. While still reeling from the tragedy, Fox News viewers got to see this footage of Palestinians allegedly celebrating the attacks:
It wasn’t just Fox News, though. Here’s how the scene was presented by CNN:
MSNBC also aired similar footage from the West Bank:
Appearing when it did, this footage gave many Americans a distorted view of Muslim reaction to the attacks, which was, in fact, widespread condemnation. It is perhaps out of concern for this sort of distorted impression that media outlets are now reluctant to replay that footage, but it bears direct relevance to the political price Trump will pay for his current campaign of lies. To the Americans who matter to Trump, the resentful Republican base and low-information independents, Trump’s conflation of this footage with that unsourced WaPo report will be seen as a forgivable transgression at worst, and at best, something that feels true.
What I find even more bizarre about this current controversy is the immense gulf between coverage of Trump’s bogus 9/11 memories and the balls-out anti-black racism he displayed almost simultaneously. There may or may not have been people celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11, but the racist tweet Trump sent out this weekend was definitively a lie, definitively racist, and yet became a one-day footnote to the 9/11 story.
Some have correctly expressed concern that Trump’s 9/11 story could lead to violence against Muslims, but his supporters’ anti-black sentiments have already led to violence against at least one black man. Tweeting that black people are doing all of the murdering would seem to be at least as problematic, and orders of magnitude more racist, yet it has been treated as a sideline. Only Bill O’Reilly has managed to press Trump about it, and even then, it was only to warn him that it might give people an excuse to falsely believe that racism is even a thing.
To her credit, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow became one of the very few media figures who has even been willing to use the word “racist” to describe Trump’s tweet on Monday night’s show, but even that was a small part of an 18-minute segment on the 9/11 story. The rest of the media is apparently allergic to calling Trump’s tweet “racist” and a “lie” in equal measure, instead often referring to the completely fabricated statistics from a made-up source “questionable.” No, people, “slugging percentage” and “QB rating” are questionable statistics, these are lies.
As outrageous as Trump’s lies are, I find the media’s treatment of them even more of an outrage, because Trump has no duty to serve the public. Apparently, the media doesn’t think it does, either, or at least not that segment of the public.
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