It’s 2004 All Over Again

Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about truth. It started with hysteria over “fake news” during the last election season. The “truth” narrative went into overdrive with President Trump’s unexpected (by most) victory. Here are a few of the many instances that could be cited.

First, the Time magazine cover of a week or two ago:


Next, Robert Redford’s op-ed in the Washington Post, recalling Watergate and “All the President’s Men.” Its theme: “45 years after Watergate, the truth is again in danger.”

Finally, CBS’s Scott Pelley interviewing a provocateur named Mike Cernovich on 60 Minutes:

Scott Pelley: Question becomes, what, what’s your standard for objective truth?
So what’s your standard of proof?
[I]t’s about you, what’s your standard of proof?

This isn’t the first time the liberal media have experienced a crisis of confidence over “truth.” When most people look at Time’s “Is Truth Dead?” cover, they are reminded of the 1960s-era Time cover that it self-consciously copied, “Is God Dead?” But I was reminded of something else–another Time cover story about truth, dating from late 2004:


“Who owns the truth?” was about the Rathergate episode: how we and others exposed 60 Minutes’ attempt to swing the 2004 presidential election to Democrat John Kerry by publishing lies–fake news, one could say–about President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard.

I remember the Time cover collage very well, because I am in it. The photo in the lower left was taken in the loft of my house. That is Scott Johnson sitting with his back to the camera, and my left foot is barely visible next to the chair to his right.

The liberal media’s current hysteria about “truth” is eerily reminiscent of what we went through in 2004. We even have Scott Pelley, a thoroughly dishonest journalist, extolling the virtues of liberal editors who supposedly keep watch on liberal journalists:

Scott Pelley: Well, the benefit of intermediaries is having experienced editors check things out and research people. Check the facts before it goes out to the public. You don’t do any of that.

Was Pelley not around in 2004? Has he forgotten how stupid that refrain sounded then (“Layers and layers of fact-checkers”)? Does he not realize how false it rings today?

We have been here before: the liberal media are in a panic because their authority is being challenged. It must be worse now, though, than it was in 2004. Then, Time’s refrain was a relatively benign “Who owns the truth?” Now, they ask, “Is truth dead?” We can translate: “Is the liberal news media monopoly dead?”

Actually, none of the current controversies has anything to do with the nature of truth, or whether truth is (figuratively speaking) on its deathbed. Liberal journalists are just getting the vapors because, once again, they have been found out. When Donald Trump succeeded Barack Obama as president, they went from a gaggle of slobbering groupies to a pack of baying hyenas. Some people approve of the head-snapping, 180-degree reversal, while others don’t. But everyone knows it happened.

The liberal media have a couple of problems. One is manifest bias. Another is gross incompetence. We and others have documented so many lies, and so many errors, coming from the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, CNN, etc., that few have any confidence in their reporting. That is as it should be.

Liberal journalists are spooked by the fact that their candidate lost in November. They are probably even more spooked by the realization that their over-the-top assaults on Donald Trump likely helped him win.

Back in 2004 and 2005, lots of people said to us, “You guys are keeping the ‘mainstream’ media honest!” I would respond, “No, we aren’t. They are more biased than ever.” The fact that there were competing media voices justified, in their minds, cranking up the liberal dial. That is what they have been doing ever since. The consequences were predictable.

Pretty much everyone understands that left-wing journalists are promoting a liberal agenda via daily attacks on the Trump administration and Republicans generally. That doesn’t mean that their attacks are ineffective; despite being heavily discounted, the daily headlines undoubtedly take a toll. And a few people still take outlets like 60 Minutes seriously. Why, I can’t imagine. I didn’t expect, at the end of 2004, that a 60 Minutes personality would someday demand to know a guest’s “standard of proof.” 60 Minutes has never had any standard of proof at all.

The crisis that we face is not epistemological, it is political. There is no shortage of evidence, and the truth is rather clear: liberal governance has failed. The country is awash in debt, its influence around the world is in decline, its social programs have mostly failed, its borders are porous, its governing class is corrupt and incompetent, and in recent years its leaders have not even tried to advance the interests of the American people.

That is the truth. That is why Donald Trump was elected president, and why Republicans now dominate at every level of government. And that is why liberal journalists are in a panic.

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