The Fourth Estate Has an Obligation to Question Trump’s Motives in Syria

Last week, after the Washington Post published a bizarre story suggesting that the Trump administration had come around to supporting both a federal value-added tax and a carbon tax, Kevin Drum labeled the story bullpucky:

Sure they are. This sounds more like a strategic leak to demonstrate “seriousness” on Trump’s part than anything that’s really under consideration. Just give it a moment’s thought:

* Republicans hate both VATs and carbon taxes. Hate hate hate.
* A package that included top marginal rate cuts, corporate cuts, plus a VAT and/or a carbon tax to make it revenue neutral, would be almost comically regressive. Democrats would hate it even if the carbon tax were for real.

There’s zero chance that anything like this could make it through Congress. The “administration official” peddling this is just blowing smoke.

Of course, Drum was right. The VAT/carbon-tax story should have been greeted with appropriate skepticism. Anything the Trump administration does should be greeted with appropriate skepticism–and that includes Trump’s military actions.

Something has gone wrong in American media culture when speculation about whether Donald Trump’s actions in Syria constitute an effort to change the subject from Russia’s damage to our democracy is largely relegated to partisan pundits. Why can’t reporters raise these sorts of questions? Is that somehow a violation of journalistic protocol?

There’s a reason why the Fourth Estate picked up the pom-poms for Trump’s strike on Syria. It’s the same reason the press rooted for the Iraq War in 2003: taking a position favoring a GOP President is an easy way to refute allegations of “liberal bias.” American reporters, worn down by decades of false claims about supposed left-wing advocacy, don’t want to get into a fight with the right: giving a rhetorical thumbs-up to a Republican President getting his war on is, at least in theory, a way to keep the wingnut wolves at bay.

Yet cowardice is unbecoming of the American journalistic tradition. It took courage for Walter Cronkite to question whether the United States could actually triumph in Vietnam. It also takes courage for reporters to question whether Trump is up to no good, to ask if he has ulterior motives, to inquire as to whether the strike on Syria was nothing more than a cynical attempt to shift the American public’s attention away from Russia’s interference in our election (and also boost his “sad” poll numbers). Can we find such courage today? Wouldn’t a dogged reporter or reporters question whether Trump is wagging the dog?

Think about how much damage was inflicted upon our country and our world by the refusal of the American press to raise questions about the actual motives behind Bush’s planned adventure in Iraq in 2002 and 2003. The Fourth Estate could have, at the very least, slowed down Bush’s rush to war. They could have asked the obvious questions about why Bush was so eager to invade a country that had nothing to do with September 11. They could have held the last Republican administration accountable. Instead, the press knelt in obedience.

The Fourth Estate needs to embrace the famous New England Patriots slogan: when it comes to questioning Trump’s motives in Syria and elsewhere, do your job.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.