We’re past the point of noting that much (though not all) of the Montana press has decided to ignore what seems obvious about the non-stop Trump visits to Montana: that the Republicans are hoping to have endless coverage of these rallies where no questions are asked or answered to cover for the weakness of Matt Rosendale as a candidate. In newsrooms that are already under-staffed, there’s no better way to keep reporters from chasing down stories about Mr. Rosendale’s absence from work, his campaign finance violations, his connection to racist, anti-government groups, and his plan to strip coverage from people with preexisting conditions than to have reporters chasing down rallies to report about self-selected, enthusiastic crowds.
But I think reporters at those events still have an obligation to provide news, not merely amplify campaign rhetoric.
At last night’s rally in Helena, Donald Trump, Jr. opened with this line, according to the Independent Record:
The headliner was Trump Jr., who opened his speech by saying that the New York Times had mischaracterized a prairie dog hunt he had been on in Montana. “They said I was shooting pregnant dogs,” Trump Jr. said to a loud crowd. “This is the world in which we live today.”
A great anecdote unless telling the truth matters. It fits the Republican narrative that the mainstream media is dishonest, the “enemy of the people,” and out to get mainstream, ordinary Americans like the salt of the Earth people like Trump. In an era when a majority of conservatives believe that the press is actively against Republicans and actively choosing to lie, I’m sure Junior’s remarks struck a chord.
But they’re not true. The media never reported the lie, which actually originated with inveterate liar Greg Gianforte:
He doesn’t really remember the headline either, because it never appeared. As Dallas News points out, the Humane Society of the United States had, indeed, noted that Jr.’s prairie doggin’ trip coincided with the time of year when prairie dog pups are nursing. The advocacy group released a statement saying, “Pregnant Prairie Dogs Need to Be Protected Not Shot.”
But it was Gianforte – he was at Thursday’s rally, too – who first told the fake “pregnant dogs” anecdote, telling a local newspaper last year, “When the story got picked up by newspapers like the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and Washington Post, the word ‘prairie’ got dropped and so the headline read ‘Donald Trump Jr. shoots pregnant dogs in Montana.'”
After Thursday’s rally, Dallas News went looking for those Tribune, Globe and Post headlines. Any surprise it didn’t find them?
Writes Dallas‘ Washington Bureau Chief Todd J. Gillman, “A search of The Times’ archives shows no headline of the sort Trump Jr. claimed, nor even a printed version of a story about the hunt.” The Times did publish an Associated Press story online, and a subsequent letter to the editor about it, with no mention of the prairie dogs either nursing or being pregnant.
Is this a big deal? No. But it encapsulates much of the danger in the era of Trump. The press needs to fact check EVERYTHING THEY SAY, because they LIE ALL THE TIME about small things and large things, about people and policy, about values and facts. And for the media to amplify those lies—lies that undermine the very media entrusted with covering our leaders—only emboldens and empowers those who would continue to undermine truth.
I have other issues with the coverage of this story. There was no mention that Trump Jr. is under investigation for his role in the Russian scandal, no mention that his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle left her job at Fox News under a cloud including accusations of sexual harassment, and not even a single quote from someone outside the event. Apparently, no one thought to give the Tester campaign the opportunity to respond to the accusations, especially the ongoing lie from the Trumps about Ronny Jackson.
But the prairie dogs embody the danger in the era of Trump as well as anything and illustrate how the press needs to more aggressively check their lies before printing anything. I know this blog (and this author in particular) rail against the press periodically, but I don’t think they’re liars or enemies of the people. I do think, though, that the need to be reminded that in an era where most people are getting informed by memes and misrepresentations online that are far shorter than their stories or this commentary, that the truth still matters.
When politicians lie, the press cannot allow itself to be the megaphone for those lies, whether they’re about matters as small as prairie dogs or as big as Montana’s public lands.
If they don’t check and refute those lies, we’re lost.