In 2017, the Gallup organization conducted a major national poll, asking a question they have asked in previous years: Is the news media trustworthy?
Wyoming was ground zero of media distrust with only 25 percent of the state’s citizens trusting the media a “great deal or a fair amount.” Other states at the bottom: Nebraska, Utah, North Dakota and Idaho. You can find similar results in other surveys and, of course, folks living in solid red states trust the local and national press the least.
And, while I’m the first to acknowledge that reporters and editors make mistakes all the time — I certainly did when I was in the daily news business years ago — I don’t think the widespread distrust of the news media, particularly among conservative consumers of news and information, is adequately explained by the simple explanation you hear all the time. The simple story: There is a deeply embedded liberal bias in the media.
My theory is more complicated and a good deal more sinister. I think conservative politicians have been misleading, bamboozling, indeed lying to their conservative followers for so long and with such conviction that it has directly contributed to a warped sense of what can be demonstrated to be true.
President Donald Trump, in a pernicious way, is the ultimate example of distorting truth in the service of political gain.
Trump promised to build a “big beautiful wall” on the Mexican border that Mexico would pay for. He hasn’t. Yet, he flim flams his followers by posting pictures of repair or upgrades to existing stretches of the border fence — it’s not a wall — and claims that he’s faithful to his promise. He isn’t and Mexico isn’t paying. You are.
Trump insisted on withdrawal from the multinational Iranian nuclear deal and slapped more sanctions on Iran. But Iran has returned to enriching uranium and is predictably threatening more bad actions. Trump pulled out without a plan, while ensuring us everything would be just great. It’s not.
Ditto with North Korea, now reportedly secretly developing a submarine capable of launching missiles. Trump has met twice with North Korea’s butcher and has less than zero to show for it. Yet, to hear him tell it he deserves the Noble Peace Prize.
Trump insisted Republicans repeal Obamacare, even though repeal efforts had failed in the House more than 70 times. He’s promised a vastly better and less expensive approach to health care, but he’s never offered a health care plan and congressional Republicans haven’t, either.
The list goes on: Tariffs against China are putting millions in the federal treasury. Sure they are because Americans are paying a tax on Chinese imports. That’s how tariffs work. Trump has lied about his policy from day one.
Or how about the candidate who called for a “complete” ban on Muslims entering the U.S. showing up this week at a United Nations meeting to demand more religious tolerance?
Climate change is real. Ask any scientist. But Republicans nearly to a person fall in line behind the president’s babbling about light bulbs, plastic straws and his determination to end tougher auto emissions standards in California.
Trump was going to release his tax returns. He hasn’t, and has a team of lawyers working full-time to prevent it from ever happening. He wasn’t going to profit from his businesses while in office, but he has repeatedly. An interview with Robert Mueller? Sure, why not. It never happened.
One of the biggest howlers of all involves the 2017 tax cut, a huge windfall for the wealthiest in America that has ballooned the deficit and done nothing for the economy. But to be fair, Republicans have been riding the tax cutting hobby horse since the 1980s when Ronald Reagan established the fiction that tax cuts pay for themselves. They don’t.
At least cutting taxes is a policy, unlike the GOP response to health care, climate, Iran, North Korea or trade.
It’s easy to see that Idaho’s federal lawmakers are clinging to office simply by not upsetting their Trumpian constituency, a political culture almost entirely informed by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Trump’s 12,000 documented presidential lies. Yet, the remarkable political timidity of elected Republicans is explained by one additional factor. They’ve all come of age schooled in Newt Gingrich’s approach to politics. They’ve been going along with the blatant lies, the clever half-truths and the issueless GOP agenda for so long they’re locked in.
The most difficult thing for any politician to do is to tell supporters they are wrong, while explaining actual facts to skeptics. But most Republican officeholders have long since ceased to be independent agents. They don’t lead; they are motivated to avoid primary challenges and do so by justifying any policy or any behavior that follows Trumpian talking points. These are their keys to political survival. Republicans are so woefully out of practice leveling with their constituents that most of them adopted Sen. Jim Risch’s approach to the latest impeachment inducing information that Trump pressured Ukraine to manufacture dirt on a political rival. That is a national security and abuse of power transgression that should boggle any conservative’s mind, but Risch isn’t the least bit concerned and immediately trotted out a mini-blizzard of flim flam that avoids facts.
“For years the far left has been trying to delegitimize everything President Trump does,” Risch said. Quite a statement coming from a guy who warmly embraced every effort to thwart a Democratic president, including refusing to even consider a Supreme Court nominee. Risch accused Democrats of “prioritizing politics over facts.” Again, quite a comment from a politician who dismissed the special counsel’s Russian report as a “nothing burger.”
During a recent speech in Boise, Risch said Idahoans could count on him to never “fight with the president,” as if senatorial independence in a co-equal branch of government equaled political combat. Uncharacteristically, Risch spoke real truth when he said those Republicans who have pushed back against Trumpian lies and misdeeds “are not here anymore.”
That’s all you really need to know about a fact-free Republican Party. Job security is job one.
A serious day of reckoning is coming. Search for facts. Don’t trust your bias. The press isn’t the enemy of the people, but politicians unwilling to confront genuine high crimes come pretty close to being just that.
Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.