When “misspeaking” is really doublethinking
Trump’s team is ramping-up their efforts to delegitimize the press and maybe taking a page out of George Orwell's playbook. In Orwell’s dystopia, 1984, the workers in the Ministry of Truth practice doublethinking when they falsify public records, and then believe in the new history that they themselves have just rewritten. It appears that Trump’s proxies are using, or are trapped within, a comparable system of doublethink.
Trump White House counselor and administration-shill-in chief, got trolled fairly extensively for her comments on MSNBC last weekend in reference to the “Bowling Green Massacre” by Iraqi terrorists – an event that never happened. She later admitted that she misspoke and used the extensive coverage of her error to hit back at the press for being “haters” that were quick to demonize the White House over the most trivial mistakes.
But consider this. First, Conway’s claim of misspeaking, of as she said, erroneously transposing the word “massacre” when she meant “terrorist” makes absolutely no sense if you look at the sentence she actually uttered on camera. What she claimed on MSNBC was:
“CONWAY: It's the seven countries that were previously identified by President Obama as being high risk as being states that either harbor, train or export — and/or export terrorism. These are nations very narrowly proscribed and also temporary.
CONWAY: I bet there was very little coverage — I bet — I bet it's brand-new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre.”
Changing the word “Massacre” to “Terrorist” would produce the sentence: “…after two Iraqis came here to this country were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green terrorists”. Clearly, this was not a mistake of one word.
Second, its now come to light that she made the misspeaking mistake not once, but three times to three different news organizations. She also used the phrase “massacre” to Cosmopolitian during an on-the-record interview with the publication on 29 Jan. and also referenced it as the “Bowling Green attack” during a brief encounter with TMZ on the same day.
The actual incident she was referencing on all three occasions involved two Iraqi nationals who were attempting to send money and arms to al Qaeda in Iraq to harm U.S. troops. They were caught, convicted and sentenced to prison – all reported in the national press.
In her comments to Cosmopolitan, Conway stated that the two Iraqi men “came to this country, joined ISIS, traveled back to the Middle East to get training and refine their terrorism skills and come back here and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre of taking innocent soldiers’ lives away.”
Now it may well be that Conway is just hopelessly confused (al Qaeda and ISIS, for instance) or has been fed these demonstrable falsehoods by someone else in the administration. She might actually have believed what she said. Or maybe it was an outright lie. Unless she leaves the White House team, we won't know anytime soon.
What has become apparent, however, is that Trump and his administration are now using the ridicule meted out to Conway as a rhetorical bludgeon against the mainstream media as a whole. Speaking to the U.S. Central Command on Monday 6 Feb., Trump is now claiming that the media was intentionally covering-up reports of terrorist attacks.
“You’ve seen what happened in Paris, and Nice. All over Europe, it’s happening,” he said to the assembled military leaders. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”
Predictably, journalists who put their lives at risk actually covering terrorism around the world were (rightfully) outraged. The real problem with this is that in our world of news/information silos, Trumps remarks (and those of Conway) will be broadcast to their intended audience through “alternative” news sites and through Facebook posts and tweets. The full context and the rigorous fact checking done by the news media will be absent – or worse just derided as lies.
Significantly, Trump himself seems perfectly willing to ignore the mass shooting of people by terrorists if they are not those he wants to use as his bogeyman to scare middle America. For instance, the real terror attack at a mosque in Quebec last week. In that case, the White House press secretary Sean Spicer told the media that the president and the Canadian prime minister had spoken, but Trump himself declined to weigh in. And Spicer even cited the attack as validating Trump’s immigration policies. This itself could be seen as doublethink, since the far-right terrorist in Quebec was a Canadian citizen who murdered six Muslim Canadians. Indeed, the Trump administration has now indicated that its focus will be on combatting only "Islamic terrorism" even though it is probably the case that far right wing extremists radicalized on the internet are now a bigger threat.
While it is important not to overstate the coherence of all these episodes and think it part of some sinister master plan – of essentially falling into the same warrens of conspiracy theories that animate both the extreme far right and many of Trump’s core supporters – I think that this pattern of using lies to promote their agenda and then using the outrage of the media fact-checkers to then wink to supporters “see we told you so” is a deliberate tactic. It was, essentially, the modus operandi of Breitbart while Bannon was in charge, and continues to be a tactic of the so-called Alt-Right now.
Consider the recent events in Berkeley: send out a provocateur – in that case Milos Yiannopoulos – with the intent of provoking outrage on a university campus, then when the event is called off due to safety concerns (that is, preventing Yiannopoulos from being assaulted by protestors) claim that somehow the University is stifling free speech and, bingo, in jumps Trump suggesting that Universities that don’t support free speech should lose federal funding. Even if Robert Reich’s suggestion that theviolent protestors were actually sent by Breitbart seems very unlikely and too conspiratorial, it is the case that the Alt-Right website floated the idea of federal defunding of liberal public institutions prior to Yiannopoulos visit to Berkeley. So, the provocation produces a reaction that the provocateurs can use to support their core message: elite liberal institutions lie to the masses and deny other viewpoints from getting aired.
Whether instinctual or deliberate, both thee White House assault on the integrity of journalists using what amounts to doublethink, and the tactics of provocation used by far-right activists, are working to undermine faith in America’s institutions of factuality and truth seeking. This only serves to help the radical far right and indeed extremsists of all stripes.