When he lies, say he lied

The big meal on the news media plate is how to deal with a president who tells shameless brazen lies all the time. They’re used to dealing with presidents (and members of Congress and similar) who conceal and obfuscate and dance around the truth, but not ones who just tell obvious lies many times every day, including on Twitter. They’re struggling.

Donald Trump is once again claiming credit for beating back the scourge of outsourcing, this time insisting that he is the reason that Sprint has announced plans to move thousands of jobs back to America from other countries.

“Because of what’s happening, and the spirit and the hope, I was just called by the head people at Sprint, and they are going to be bringing 5,000 jobs back to the United States,” Trump said, adding that the news of jobs “coming back into the United States” marks “a nice change.” Trump later added that the jobs were coming back “because of me.”

And yet – it’s at least not that simple, but most newspapers did a crap job of making that clear in their headlines.

Some headlines did manage to convey this basic underlying problem. Politico noted in its headline that Trump was touting “previously announced” jobs. Bloomberg was even better, stating flatly in its headline: “Trump seeks credit for 5,000 Sprint jobs already touted.”

I would like to propose a rule of thumb for these situations: If the headline does not convey the fact that Trump’s claimis in question or open to doubt, based on the known facts, then it is insufficiently informative. The Bloomberg headline does accomplish this. If the headline merely conveys that Trump claimed credit for something, without also conveying that this is open to doubt, then it risks being misleading, particularly since people often scan headlines without digging deeper into the stories and the factual details.

“Claimed credit” is a red flag for me, but then that’s because by now I know quite a bit about Trump’s habit of lying. I’ve primed myself to see “claimed credit” as a red flag. If I hadn’t I might miss it.

Why is this a risk any news org would choose to take, when it doesn’t have to? Look, it’s obvious that Trump has adopted a strategy of actively trying to game such headlines in his favor. Trump’s claims about Carrier jobs staying in Indiana turned out to be significantly less rosy upon closer inspection. And remember when Trump falsely claimed credit for keeping a Ford plant here that was going to stay anyway? It really doesn’t take much to convey it in a headline when Trump’s claim is in doubt.

And it’s not as if it’s not newsworthy, either.

Pretty much everyone already accepts that Trump’s nonstop lies and embellishment pose an unprecedented challenge to the news media. What’s more, we’ve already seen news orgs actively adjust their editorial approaches to cope with it. When the New York Times famously broke with precedent and called Trump’s birtherism a “lie” in a front page headline, executive editor Dean Baquet explained that this was necessary because Trump was going beyond the “normal sort of obfuscation that politicians traffic in.” In other words, Trump is forging new frontiers of dishonesty, and news organizations must adjust accordingly.

He lies. Constantly. He won the election by lying constantly. The news media have to report on him accordingly.

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