At the top of the Washington Post’s website, a day after the second Trump-Biden presidential campaign debate, is a story entitled, “Trump seeks momentum from debate while Biden focuses on pandemic.” Read it and you’ll see a classic example of political coverage: an insider compendium that seeks to frame the debate’s impact on the race.
This story has a hollow core: empty space surrounded by the oh-so-savvy insider-isms that political journalists can’t resist. (Yes, it’s also a horse-race story, but at this point in the political cycle, that’s probably appropriate.)
The hole in this story is ignoring the central feature of the debate, which is not that the president’s overt behavior was slightly less obnoxious than during the first face-off with Biden. No, the central reality was that Trump lied incessantly and brazenly, spewing deceit about every topic that came up during the 90-minute TV event.
You won’t find the word “lie” in the piece, of course. Big Journalism does carnival-quality contortions to avoid using that clear and — in Trump’s case — plainly accurate word. Big Journalism only resorts to it when something the president’s standard-issue deceit rises to a level of brazenness that even timid news organization’s can’t justify a tamer word.
But “lie” isn’t the only missing word. So are “false” and “deceive” and “untrue” and, as far as I can tell, any other word that might even hint at the fountain of deceit that erupted — as usual — from the president of the United States.
That may account for the missing context in the Post’s story. Journalists have thoroughly normalized Trump’s lying. So perhaps it didn’t occur to the team of reporters to mention that central reality of the debate — nor, maybe worse, to their editors who put the story at the top of their home page.
Perhaps they assumed all readers already understood the context. I do note, meanwhile, that the Post featured a story — right next to this one on the home page — on one of Trump’s repeatedly told lies.
But very few people will see the Post story in that context, because most people arrive at story pages via social media and other links. And when they read this horse-race special, they won’t be reminded of the core reality of Donald Trump: his relentless, malign deceit during the event the story was covering. Journalism should be better than this.