Let’s talk about headlines.
President Trump yesterday attacked Joe Biden for saying that he was running for Senate, instead of the Presidency. This is from the official Trump campaign:
There’s a big problem with this, and that problem is that Trump seized upon only part of the quote, editing out the remainder. He’s misrepresenting what was actually said, and that misrepresentation has been amplified throughout Republican circles.
Here’s the full clip, from a Trump supporter who didn’t get the memo she was supposed to edit it down:
What we’re seeing here is absolutely a slip… and it’s a slip which is immediately recognized and covered up by the remainder of the speech. This happened because Biden is campaigning. There are a variety of stump speeches he’s been expected to memorize and recite as if they are coming from him spontaneously.
It’s a gaffe, but a minor one and completely normal. It’s also normal for opposition parties to take such slips and attempt to magnify them.
There is absolutely a large question of self-awareness, considering Trump’s long demonstrated inability to speak in complete sentences.
Here’s the key, though: it’s the headlines. Here’s one from Fox News, and another from the Daily Wire, and another from the New York Post:
Fox: Biden repeats gaffe that he’s running ‘for the Senate,’ appears to not remember Mitt Romney’s name
Daily Wire: Trump Mocks Biden After Democrat Declares He’s Running For The Senate, Forgets Romney’s Name
NY Post: Trump ridicules Biden for saying he’s running ‘for the Senate,’ forgetting Romney’s name
In every one of these stories, the full quote is provided in the body of the article:
“You know, we have to come together. That’s why I’m running. I’m running as a proud Democrat for the Senate, when I ran as a proud Democrat for vice president, and I’m running as a proud Democrat for president. But I promise you this, I will govern as an American president.”
Again, none of this is new. Multiple studies have shown that people are disinclined to read beyond the headline if the headline seems to confirm something they already believe. Of those who do read the body of an article, many skim through the first few paragraphs and decide they have the sense of the piece. For as long as I’ve been alive, editors have been taking advantage of these facts to slant stories, presenting all information in such a way as to ensure their readership receives the story they want heard.
There are two lessons here. One is obvious, and the conclusion people will have heard dozens of times before: read the full article. The three sites listed above are heavily slanted toward Trump, but they provided the requisite information that undermined their own headlines. I used to believe this was a lesson that Republicans had long ago learned, due to the bias against them in newspaper and television editorial rooms throughout the country. I have had proven, under Trump, that I was utterly foolish in that assumption.
As to the other lesson? Trump has been chided and mocked for getting his news from television and radio shows, but that understates the danger he poses. Millions of Americans use television, radio or the internet as their primary news sources. His decision resonates with them, gives them a sense of bonding.
This choice grates on some observers because it simplifies and introduces errors into the factors he needs to make decisions. The data about enemy movements in Afghanistan, received directly from intelligence agencies, is far more accurate than what is seen after portions of that data have been leaked to a news agency which has then had a resident expert examine it and provide a summary to a news producer who then crafts a story on it with a talking head.
In truth, though, the issue is even more insidious. As demonstrated by Trump’s actions yesterday – and literally hundreds of similar examples over the last four years – Trump doesn’t get his information from the television stories and articles from friendly web sites; he gets his information only from the headlines and the sound bites. He is aggressively ignorant, and he has pushed that ignorance to his supporters. Reading the body of the story or listening to the entire broadcast undermines his message, so his supporters are expected to ignore them.
Trump’s supporters aren’t reading Daily Wire and watching Fox News; they’re taking in only bumper stickers and memes, just like their hero.
This is how and why the conspiracy cults have flourished under Trump. Absent actual information, people are seeking ways to fill in their understanding of the world before them, and they are taking the lines spun out by QAnon and Alex Jones to do so.