SYNDICATED COLUMN: Long Before Trump, News Media Wallowed in “Alternative Facts”

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Most of the news media is at war with Donald Trump, and rightly so. First, journalists should always be at war with the governments they cover. Nonadversarial journalism isn’t journalism — it’s stenography. Second, Trump Administration officials’ refusal to even pretend to be interested in the truth, immortalized by Kellyanne Conway’s notorious praise of “alternative facts,” demands highly caffeinated contempt.

But let’s not forget an inconvenient truth. Pre-Trump, the watchdogs of democracy were mostly lapdogs, gently licking the blood-soaked hands of those who fed them: America’s political and corporate elites.

Media malpractice has been so sustained and widespread that it’s hard to know where to start. Opinion pages and cable news panel shows where no one to the left of Hillary Clinton is allowed? The abandonment of local news coverage? Massive social and economic upheavals ignored because they only afflict the poor and the middle-class-en-route-to-poor: the rusting of the Rust Belt, the meth and opioid epidemics, the replacement of good jobs by bad ones, the faking of low unemployment and inflation rates?

Editors and producers are guilty of many sins. For my money, however, the biggest and lying-est are the big lies of omission that leave important facts unknown to the public for years and even decades, result in many deaths, and let the perpetrators off the hook both legally and historically.

August publications like The New York Times have finally begun reporting that the president lied when he, you know, lied ­— as opposed to some weasel word like “misspoke” or counterquoting from an opposing politician. They’re even using “torture” to describe torture (instead of “enhanced interrogation techniques”). But that’s new, and it’s only because they’re corporate liberal and Trump is blogosphere crazy right-wing. Give them another Obama and it’ll be back to giving the people the business as usual.

The high body counts of war spotlight the staggering moral failures of a press that, day after day, fail to remind readers of fundamental truths that usually get suppressed from the outset.

For the better part of a decade, American citizens paid good money for newspapers that purported to bring them the news from Vietnam. What those papers never told them was that the reason LBJ gave for entering the war, a 1964 attack on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, never happened. This isn’t controversial; liberal and conservative historians alike agree the war was sold on fake news.

Imagine if the media had begun every story about Vietnam with a Trump-era-ish reference to Johnson’s big lie? “Continuing Unprovoked Attack on North Vietnam, U.S. B-52s Rain Death on Hanoi Without Reason.” Significantly less than 58,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese might have died.

After the U.S. lost — which they reported as a withdrawal rather than what really happened — lazy and easily cowed journalists and editors let stand the canard that returning Vietnam War vets were spat upon, insulted as “baby killers” and generally mistreated by dirty leftie hippies waiting for them at the airport. It never happened. To the contrary, the antiwar movement was supportive of vets, running clinics and other facilities to help them out. The myth of the spat-upon hippie, it turns out, began with the 1982 movie “Rambo,” when Sylvester Stallone’s character says it — probably as a metaphor.

Afghanistan’s Taliban government had nothing to do with 9/11, but few Americans know that. Even the soldiers sent to fight, kill and die there thought they were avenging the attack on the World Trade Center — and why not? Thanks to the Bush-era fake news purveyors, few of even the best read and most informed Americans know that Osama bin Laden was already in Pakistan on 9/11, that the Taliban offered to arrest him and turn him over if the U.S. showed some evidence of his guilt, that Al Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan (the vast majority were in Pakistan, as were the infamous training camps), and that there wasn’t a single Afghan among the 19 hijackers.

Would Afghanistan have become America’s longest war if news headlines had read something like “Bush Promises To Hunt Down Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Country Where They Aren’t, Sends Weapons and Cash to Country Where They Are”? Doubtful.

That the media fell down on the job during the build-up to the Iraq War is well-documented. Yet, even after the WMDs failed to turn up in that country after we destroyed it, the media never applied the standard they now stick on Trump, e.g. “Continuing Unjustified Assault on Innocent Iraq, Marines Prepare For Battle in Fallujah.” Talk about fake news — even if Saddam Hussein had had WMDs, Iraq’s lack of long-range ballistic missiles meant it never could have posed a threat to the United States.

Alternative facts abounded under Obama.

Obama launched hundreds of drone attacks against Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere that killed thousands of people. Studies showed that 49 out of 50 people killed were innocent bystanders, and that the other 1 were local guerilla fighters who hated their own local governments, not anti-American jihadis coming to kill us here. Yet story after story about drone assassinations referred to victims as “militants” or even “terrorists,” without a shred of evidence. If you’re going to let your president kill people just for fun, the least the media as a watchdog could do is call it what it is: “President Murders 14 More Muslims Cuz Fun.” Did you know the military calls them “squirters” — because their heads, you know…?

The president called out as a liar? Better 240 years late than never.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

23 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Long Before Trump, News Media Wallowed in “Alternative Facts”

  1. “That the media fell down on the job during the build-up to the Iraq War is well-documented.”


    Yet you haven’t questioned the government’s version of what happened on 9/11? You really believe that two airplanes are responsible for bringing down THREE skyscrapers at the World Trade Center?

    • If a criminal murders six people, you can only put him in jail for a maximum of his one lifetime, even if he was sentenced to six lifetimes.

      The work of proving too many things seems excessive to me if proving only one thing removes the problem.

      What’s to be done about the Democratic Party campaigns that seemed to promise to remove the problem by the impeachment of George W. Bush, but was never seriously acted upon?

      Al Capone was supposed to be a big criminal but was removed to prison, not by proving the big crimes, but only by prosecuting small easily proven crimes.

      I am atheist to the conceptual object of political theology, so I can consider many things that are beyond the ability of many who can’t consider that big lies by prominent public figures might be possible because their belief system prohibits them from even doubting the benevolence of their political gods.

    • Dr. Lehrer,

      Sorry, I watched the towers come down from the windows of my loft, the planes took them down. All of them. That said, there was one weird thing that happened that day. I was out walking my dog right after the second plane hit – our loft was on an approach to Laguardia, so you regularly heard planes go over, high up, not loud, but you heard them. That day, no planes, since they had already sent everything to the closest airport. So I’m standing there, noticing I can’t hear any planes, and then I realize I can’t hear any fighters. Which should be there. Plenty of those within a few minutes of NYC. They showed up, like 20 minutes later. I’ve never heard a reasonable explanation of why it took so long. My thought then, which is probably still my thought, is that someone high up was not surprised at what happened.

    • I’m an engineer. I have a close, personal relationship with the laws of physics.

      The laws of physics are inviolate. The official conspiracy theory violates the laws of physics. Ergo, the official conspiracy theory cannot be correct.

      “…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” -Sherlock Conan Doyle

  2. If he is in fact—as he is rumored to be—greatly indebted, Trump is the true embodiment of the U.S.A., which is the greatest debtor in the history of the world.

    The U.S. is a net debtor to the world and controls its creditors by threatening their default by its own default. The U.S.’s creditors have no interest in forcing the U.S. default and the inevitable collapse of the dollar because the trillions of dollars they hold that will then lose value, thus destroying what remains of their own abstract wealth.

    Also, as does a religion that sentences its heretics to death, heretical unbelievers in the dollar will be burned, tortured, and bombed by the great military that backs and enforces global faith in the dollar.

    The dollar is an object of faith, both because of its backing by the violence of war, and also by the economic suicide of attacking it in the global economy; whomsoever kills belief in the value of the dollar kills himself, as well as other economies holding it, just as surely as a nuclear attack on the U.S. will effectively become the suicide attack of the attacker.

    The U.S. is both a military and an economic suicide bomber.

    Both Trump and his associated economic Power Elite of the U.S.A. know how to leverage great debt into great power over its creditors.

    Those who were paying attention on September 20, 2008 will remember the unconditional “gift” of 700,000,000,000 dollars given by the U.S. Treasury (in the name of the people to) criminal bankers after receipt of a three page extortion proposal to pay up or else—or else the economy will be crashed as a consequence of the criminality of these very bankers.

    • China and Russia are moving into gold at record pace. Already the United States is losing the economic control it once had to force the rest of the West to enforce sanctions. The time will soon come when the dollar is no longer the reserve currency. Many countries are already bypassing the dollar in new bilateral agreements. The world is preparing for a post-dollar paradigm.

      The biggest problem we face is Trump expecting China to play ball. They are in an impossible position–they have no issue they can give on, and thus nothing with which to bargain. They can’t budge on N. Korea or they will face floods of Korean refugees in retaliation. They can’t back off the South China Sea because they must feed their people. And they must devalue the Yuan or go broke.

      • The scariest thing about the Democrats is they want to get Trump out of the way in any way they can so they can do who knows what, and go to war against China and Russia…and then what? Live happily ever after?

        I don’t see a plan here except maybe going down in a blaze of glory like a suicide bomber.

        That makes the Democrats seem like Hitler partying in the bunker in April of 1945.

      • Everyone here understands I have a radically different perspective though I doubt anyone understands exactly what that is.

        I oppose the globalist banker cabal. It just so happens that the modern Left supports nearly all of its objectives: breakdown of the nuclear family, assault on Christianity, mass immigration, racial agitation, gender wars, etc. Why do does the world elite want these things? Because they divide people by destroying any sense of community. No stable families. No common morality. No common origin. Nobody even knows what gender they are and everyone is alienated from everyone else with grievances.

        The world is globalizing. And I don’t mean that in the inevitable, technological sense. I mean that in the preventable, political sense. Whenever power centralizes, tyranny is guaranteed. My point here is that the very destruction and chaos you noted will result from the actions of Dems is exactly the goal.

        Some months ago I came across the idea that the bankers decided to make the West dominant for a time and now they are choosing to switch to the East. IOW, in large part the recent economic success of the West was the making of the bankers who really don’t care what part of the world has the benefits of the system, because the bankers always win regardless. Then again, with China’s dire economic and political situation and Japan’s abysmal demographics, it’s hard to see them taking over smoothly.

      • @jack

        I agree with much of your listing of symptoms but disagree with so much of what illness presents these symptoms.

        Where we disagree goes so far beyond the ability to be resolved in any comment here, and has so little chance of reaching a mutual understanding, aside from the agreement to disagree, that I will respond minimally.

        That designated by the word “left” does not comport with its etymology, which precedes its use in Revolutionary France, so using a word which has become devoid of meaning in its common usage will not advance meaningful discourse.

        A party named in honor of a political form does not take that form by taking that name.

        The Democratic Party does not become “democratic” by the appropriation of that word for its name.

        The same holds for the word “left”.

      • > The “globalist banker cabal” … supports breakdown of the nuclear family, assault on Christianity, mass immigration, racial agitation, gender wars, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

        You forget to take your meds again, Jack? If there was a such thing as a ‘globalist banker cabal’ I’m sure they would be too busy enriching themselves to worry about your paranoid delusions.

      • Glenn,

        Political labels change over time. In the original meaning of the term, I am the most liberal commenter here. In the modern sense, however, I am the least liberal.

        I realize many people are far to the Left of the Dems, particularly economically. But a common point of Ted as well as his fans is that many purported liberals and progressives are more partisan than principled. They’ll support what the Dems and celebrities support even if that’s Russophobia, war, or assassination. They’ll also excuse their own side for its failures, indiscretions, and even what amount to betrayals.

        In my experience there are nowhere near as many principled Leftists as most here seem to believe exist. Most tend that way because of feelings and free stuff.

      • Jack sez, “In the original meaning of the term, I am the most liberal commenter here.”

        Wait, what? The original meaning of the term ‘liberal’ in general usage is ‘open to new ideas.’ In philosophy, it has to do with Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

        No matter which “original meaning” you’re thinking of, you most assuredly do not qualify.

    • @ jack

      “In my experience there are nowhere near as many principled Leftists as most here seem to believe exist. Most tend that way because of feelings and free stuff.”

      Conservatives have long FELT that blacks are inferior and they FEEL that blacks should give Free stuff to their racial superiors, their conservative owners, including their children, whether through slavery or low wages.

      It’s only by some contortion of myth and logic that Fundamental Christians believe that God orders slave families to be divided and give to conservatives FREE stuff like the products of their labor and their children.

      A careful reading of the Thirteenth Amendment will reveal that State slavery is legal and only private slavery was abolished.

      Private persons wishing to use slave labor are now legally required to use slaves rented from the State.

      • Many Christians have felt that Genesis 9:25 justifies slavery, modern types still use it as a excuse for racism. Hosea 13:16 makes it clear that it’s God’s Will to break up families and make sex slaves of the young virgins.

      • Good Christians don’t read the Bible.

        Jesus’s job is to get dressed up like Santa or the Easter Bunny and give Christians FREE stuff and permission to beat Gays with a stick like a piñatae under the mistaken impression that their sexual orientation is contagious because they can feel a case of it coming on when they see one.

        And you can only kill a baby after it’s been born, by malnutrition, or deprivation of medicine, or one of those sacred drones God gave them.

        But trying to live up to the Sermon on the Mount will get you lynched by today’s Fundamentalist Christians.

  3. As our fearless, evidence-based news always said after dozens were killed by an Obama drone, ‘Classified intelligence proved there were no civilian causalities. Those killed all had proven records as criminal jihadists.’

    As a move-in present, Obama ordered a strike on Yemen the first new moon after he left office, and Trump fell for it. The Seals arrived, several got shot, and one got killed, so the Seals called in air strikes on a school, a hospital, and a mosque. The official version is that every teacher, student, doctor, nurse, and patient was armed and shooting at the Seals.

    But instead of saying the brave Seal died, and there were no civilian causalities, the press reported that, since Trump is a totally incompetent Commander, 8 innocent women civilians and 8 innocent girls were killed in the school, along with a brave, innocent Seal, and it was 110% Trump’s fault. Obama would have managed the mission as he did the mission against Osama, where the Seals were sent to arrest Osama, who was living in a multi-million dollar fortress with a team of fierce fighters, but, thanks to Obama, the Seals accomplished their mission without a Seal getting even a minor injury. Obama’s version of the mission that killed Osama reads like a thriller, and was written by a very talented reporter who was hired because he was at the very top of his creative writing class.

    And the press and courts agreed that the president could not be bound by an obsolete 18th century document. Not only was the president not required to give due process, the president had a duty to deny due process to keep Americans safe. Not any more.

    Meanwhile, for the truth about Syria, read

    But Le Monde has a fact checker, and it says is a fake news site, with nothing but fake news, so it gets the red flag. CNN, the New York Times, and all other mainstream US/UK/EU news sites get the green, ‘reliable’ flag. Russia Today and Breitbart get the yellow, ‘some truth, but lots of fake news mixed in’ flag.

    • “And the press and courts agreed that the president could not be bound by an obsolete 18th century document.”

      Since you are ridiculing this, can I take you to be a constitutional originalist? Rather than supporting activist judges who have decided the Founders supported homomarriage, etc.

  4. Inspector Clouseau and Maxwell Smart were highly effective despite being thoroughly incompetent. Could it be that Hair Furor mit dem kleinen Schwanzstucker is following in their footsteps?

    He could have had a bunch of boot-licking stenographers at his disposal, instead he went on the attack. That was a completely idiotic move from a tactical standpoint, but it’s resulted in the media actually growing a pair. Who knew?

    He scrapped the TPP, not because he actually read it – but because it was associated with his predecessor. It probably would have made his clothing line even more profitable. Again it was a dumb move by a supposed business superstar, but he accidentally helped out the working stiffs he intends to stiff.

    What next?

      • They have for every other president. Regardless, it was a stupid move coming from someone who considers himself such a great negotiator.

      • They declared war here as soon as they saw he was unapologetically politically incorrect. That was in the summer of 2015. If you haven’t been paying attention, they’ve made it their mission to delegitimize his presidency from the get-go.

      • Once again we agree, Jack.

        Reporting the Bizarro World balderdash that comes out of Trump’s orifice while fact checking same does, indeed, delegitimize his presidency.

        However, I must disagree with the date you specified. I am under the impression that particular war was declared sometime between July 4, 1776 and December 15, 1791. It’s called “freedom of the press” and it’s not only their right to fight; it’s their duty.

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