Yesterday provided a case study of why public regard for the news media has plummeted. The frenzy over whether Secretary of State Tillerson called President Trump a moron became a centerpiece of the day’s news cycle because it enabled what my late mentor M. Stanton Evans called “ventriloquist journalism”—reporters finding a way to use a quotation or action of a public figure to back up their favored narrative, and calling it “news.”
Tillerson was right to say that he wouldn’t confirm or deny the story, because that is a mug’s game. Because the next question would be, “Well, did you call him a poopyhead?” And “do you still beat your wife?” Tillerson’s quite proper answer was uniformly rendered as a confirmation by most media “analyses,” and gleefully reported as such everywhere.
The idea of “fake news” isn’t really new with Trump; Daniel Boorstin was onto the essence of what is meant by fake news with his great 1962 book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, which explained that “pseudo-events” are manufactured news rather than real events of historic consequence. Yesterday’s “moron-gate” is an excellent example of a pseudo-event.
I am certain the media could have—and probably did once in a while—try to make news out of Reagan Administration officials who said Reagan was an inattentive dunce who fell asleep in cabinet meetings, etc. Turns out most of those reports were wrong, but in any case they missed utterly the substance of what was really going on and what Reagan was really doing and thinking himself. And who really cares if Tillerson in a moment of frustration called Trump a “moron”?
The real morons today are our puffed up media grandees. And I won’t deny saying it every time I turn on the TV news.