Four Sideshow Bobs

“Washington Post fact-checker introduces ‘Bottomless Pinocchio’ rating to call Trump on repeated false claims”

Or, the weird desperate petulance of a man in denial about the limits of his profession.

“Fact-checking” refers or should refer to behind-the-scenes editor research, ensuring quotes are real, data points are accurate, to keep the journalist honest. To use “fact-checking” to describe analyzing the veracity of politicians’ public claims just admits that journalism no longer serves that (ostensible) purpose.

When journalism becomes — or becomes more transparently — PR, mis- and disinformation, and opinion heavy, its ostensible truth-seeking project has to be recreated elsewhere:

The purpose of this website, and an accompanying column in the Sunday print edition of The Washington Post, is to “truth squad” the statements of political figures regarding issues of great importance, be they national, international or local. It’s a big world out there, and so we rely on readers to ask questions and point out statements that need to be checked.

From the Bottomless Pinocchios unveiling, Glenn Kessler’s bottomless credulity:

“Despite the facts”
“a unique challenge to fact-checkers.”
“despite having access to official budget data”
objective reality does not appear to matter” (emphasis mine)
“Trump has been undeterred by pesky fact checks”

Kessler approaches understanding more than meets the eye, acknowledging that Trump doesn’t care about fact checks and lies intentionally:

Trump’s willingness to constantly repeat false claims has posed a unique challenge to fact-checkers. Most politicians quickly drop a Four-Pinocchio claim, either out of a duty to be accurate or concern that spreading false information could be politically damaging.

Not Trump. The president keeps going long after the facts are clear, in what appears to be a deliberate effort to replace the truth with his own, far more favorable, version of it. He is not merely making gaffes or misstating things, he is purposely injecting false information into the national conversation.

But he doubles down on his method, maybe infinite Pinocchios will show Trump’s not a real boy.

We could award Kessler Four Sideshow Bobs:

Except at this point Kessler himself knows this is the game:

  • Trump says what his supporters want to hear
  • Media class says ‘that’s not true!’ (i.e., what their base wants to hear)
  • Trump says the media is the enemy
  • Journalists desperately create new ways to say ‘that’s not true’
  • Both build their brand
  • Profit
  • From November 2018:

‘We’ve seen that anytime you break away from the Trump story and cover other events in this era, the audience goes away,’ [the CNN executive] added. ‘So we know that, right now, Donald Trump dominates.’

CNN is projected to report its most profitable year ever.”

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