Magazine article The New Yorker

Info Wars

Magazine article The New Yorker

Info Wars

Article excerpt

Info Wars

Last Monday, according to the Times, President Donald Trump, meeting in the White House with congressional leaders, told a story about voting fraud that he had supposedly heard from Bernhard Langer, the German professional golfer. (Langer soon issued a statement repudiating Trump's account.) Throughout the week, the President repeated his calumny that he lost the popular vote only because millions of "illegals" voted for Hillary Clinton. Trump's obsession with this subject may arise from his pathological need to tally every score in his own favor, but he surely knows that his propaganda also advances the Republican Party's efforts to extend barriers to legitimate voting by Latinos and African-Americans, through voter-I.D. requirements and other state laws. Diverse studies have turned up no evidence of significant fraud in recent elections. On Wednesday, Trump nonetheless vowed to sign an executive order commissioning a federal investigation.

The major news organizations are still reckoning with how to report on the President's lies. Many newspapers and networks now forthrightly point out false statements by Trump and his spokespeople. Such fact checking is essential, but it is also a task of the President's making, one full of traps. Trump and his aides provoke conflict with the media to fire up supporters and renew the narrative of a people's champion at war with the bicoastal establishment.

One might wish that the solemn responsibility of leading a nuclear-armed world power would steer a successful seventy-year-old man away from routinely telling whoppers, yet it is hardly surprising that Trump has not changed since taking the oath of office. He has a long record as salesman, provocateur, self-promoter, and self-worshipper. His eruptions on Twitter and on live TV damage American democracy and credibility, but there are even more worrying aspects of the disinformation emanating from and around the Administration. During the campaign, Trump's advisers mobilized in their service a phalanx of information warriors, including commentators on Fox News and digital upstarts such as Breitbart News, whose offerings included partisan and extremist content. Alongside them worked looser, less visible online networks of racists, anti-Semites, and nationalists. A question now is how Trump's image shapers, led by Stephen Bannon, the former Breitbart head who is the White House senior counsellor, intend to adapt that strategy--which included the promotion of big lies about President Obama's birth and Secretary Clinton's health--as policy, embedded across federal agencies.

Bannon has encouraged Trump's aggressive attacks on the press, even as the President seeks the media's attention and approval. Last week, in an interview with the Times, Bannon jokingly described himself as Darth Vader, and said that the media should "keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while." He added that traditional news organizations have "no power" and "zero integrity, zero intelligence." He apparently foresees a permanent campaign, energized by televised rallies and daily tweets, so that the President may evolve into a kind of digital-age Mussolini Lite.

Journalists are accustomed to being attacked, and the Administration's insults have served only to motivate many of them. …

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