Like many of us here on campus, I try to receive my news from reputable and unbiased sources as much as possible. These sources are ones that present the news as it is, without spin or agenda, for readers to assess as they’d like. Once I’ve established this factual basis, however, I find it equally informative to read biased sources. In surveying a diverse array of opinions and interpretations and listening to political pundits on both sides of the aisle, I can often estimate what effects a news event will have on the political landscape down the road. We live in a dynamic political society where all words have consequences, so just because a certain analysis is ludicrous doesn’t mean it can’t have real-world consequences.
Because of this, despite my unabashed liberalism, I’ll admit I occasionally read an article or two from Fox News and scroll through its Facebook posts to see how the “most trusted name in news” is interpreting recent political developments. I was doing just that yesterday when I came across a segment that truly shocked me. In this clip, from “The Five,” token Fox ‘bro’ Jesse Watters discussed Trump’s UN speech and foreign policy approach:
“In the first seven months of this administration, [President Trump] has really established strong diplomatic and personal relationships with a lot of these world leaders … not just our Asian partners too but in Europe—Macron, over in Paris, and you have May, who Trump was just speaking to. President Obama really wasn’t a people person on the world stage. I don’t remember one leader who even comes to mind who I can say: ‘You know, President Obama really formed a bond with this guy.’”
The clip’s caption read: “Jesse Waters discusses the difference between President Donald J. Trump’s camaraderie with world leaders and former President Barack Obama’s.”
Not to mention the misogyny in Watter’s unquestioned association between “leader” and “guy,” this display of blatantly selective memory and pure fabrication left me astounded. I had policy disagreements with President Obama, yes, but what I, and many across the world, most admired about him was his personable approach to politics and his ability to orate thoughtful and articulate speeches to diverse crowds, both in and out of the spotlight. Calling him something other than a “people-person” is not only historically dishonest, it also directly contradicts our own collective observations. The images of President Obama conversing warmly with Pope Francis, park-bench chatting with Angela Merkel or embracing Narendra Modi are all fresh in our nation’s mind, so how can Watters pretend otherwise?
This troubling tactic has become all too familiar over the past year, as a hyper-polarized political system allows pundits to retain loyalty from their ideological supporters even in the face of blatant falsehoods. Too many Americans, on the left and right alike, are willing to modify their own observations and memories to fit whatever political agenda is fed to them, whether it be turning a blind-eye to climate change, domestic terrorism, corporate funding, etc. Take Sean Spicer’s now notorious inauguration claims. Despite clear photographic evidence to the contrary, the Trump administration was able to masquerade its own baseless account of events because its supporters were complicit—too polarized to call out the people they’d invested so much energy in defending. Again, this amount of party and politician loyalty is problematic on both sides of the aisle, but this tactic of ‘lie-and-deflect’ (as I call it) has recently been especially prominent in the conservative wing of American politics. The deflection aspect is equally important because, as we see in Watters’ case, his defense of Trump’s foreign policy hinges only on a misplaced critique of Obama. Often, the lie is the flashpoint to distract from a more unpleasant truth or realization—even if a claim is proven false, the short term distraction it provides makes it acceptable. In our current political climate, these lies often have few consequences: if party loyalty runs thicker than standards of truth, a liar can expect few ramifications from their support base, where it matters most.
It is up to all of us to rectify this threat to informed democracy and to hold those who impose the threat accountable.