Whenever the Trump team is caught in another act of hypocrisy or lying, it has become a common refrain to throw one’s hands up in the air and say “nothing matters anymore.” That’s partly on account of the pundits who assumed that Trump’s campaign gaffes and lies would doom his chances–and when they didn’t, rather than recalibrate their assumptions about the American electorate, instead used circular reasoning to say that nothing matters anymore. It’s also attributable to the fact that the White House and its press organs are devoid of the sense of shame that would lead most public officials to at least try to avoid the appearance of lies and hypocrisy. Most of all, it’s because very few Americans have the power to influence an insular White House that treats itself as the only arbiter of reality and doubles down on every action and statement, no matter how obviously foolish, immoral or untrue.
The White House press corps is one of the few groups of Americans who do have the power to inconvenience and disrupt the Trump Administration’s blatant trampling of democratic norms and shared objective reality.
That’s why it was so disheartening to see the laughter of the press corps when press secretary Sean Spicer brazenly showed his hypocrisy card, essentially daring anyone to call him on it:
“I talked to the president prior to this [briefing], and he said to quote him for this, ‘[The jobs reports] may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.’”
The press pool apparently found this hilarious. It isn’t. Spicer is basically saying “we say whatever need to in the moment, objective reality doesn’t matter, we both know that, and there’s basically nothing you can do about it.” That’s not funny. It’s terrifying.
And it’s even worse that most of us really can’t do anything it. But the press corps can. Rather than laugh, it could heckle. Or turn its back and walk out. Or refuse to show up the next day. Anything, really, but play along with what Greg Sargent has accurately called Trump’s war on the “possibility of shared agreement on reality itself.”
The press is supposed to safeguard objective reality. Reasonable can disagree about how it should do that: as neutral observers and recording secretaries from no viewpoint at all, or perhaps with viewpoints openly expressed serving like dueling attorneys from varying sides. But regardless of perspective, all journalism is supposed to serve the interest of empirical truth. The Trump Administration is openly hostile to the very concept.
Journalists need to treat that as the assault on their very professional existence that it is, rather than laugh along at the joke.