Columnist and author
Columnist and author
There was a time when we amused each other by sharing the latest blurtations from our new national punchline. Like that December 2015 day in Hilton Head, S.C., when Donald Trump boasted to his campaign audience:
“I went to an Ivy League School. I’m very highly educated. I know words. I have the best words.”
But none of that seems funny anymore. Every new spin of our nonstop news cycles forces us to confront a national reality that is sad and somber. The whole world is watching, in real time, the decline and fall of the United States of America as the leader of the free world. It is a sad downward trajectory, propelled by our president’s fraying, flailing, seemingly panicky on-the-job performance.
This was Trump’s week that was:
Trump strongly pushes the G-7 to readmit Russia, which was ousted after Russia militarily seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 – but his counterparts reject his overtures. Trump insisted Vladimir Putin somehow “outsmarted” Barack Obama, who “was unable to stop it.”
Trump’s chair sits vacant during a crucial G-7 climate change meeting. Trump’s aides send word that his meetings with Germany’s and India’s leaders ran late. But Germany’s and India’s leaders are sitting right there!
Trump spreads the word that he’s going to Denmark because he wants to buy Greenland. When Denmark’s stunned Prime Minster Mette Frederiksen says Greenland isn’t for sale, Trump abruptly cancels his planned visit.
Trump tweets insults at Puerto Ricans as corrupt as a hurricane bears down on them. He is complaining he wasn’t properly thanked for past aid.
Once again, we’re all waiting for our sensible leaders of both parties, who were always there for us in the past, to rescue us from our apparently untethered commander-in-chief. But the Party formerly known as the Grand Old is afraid to take a stand. And they’re getting away with pretending they can’t see what the world sees, in part because of a failing by another category of players in our process of governance. I’m referring to my news media colleagues.
We help set the agenda of those who govern by what we choose to report – and how we report it. But when it comes to Russia’s cyber-aggression against America, my colleagues apparently don’t have the best words. Or they’ve forgotten how to use them to report clearly to Americans what is happening.
Even the very best in our news business have fallen into the lazy-thinking trap of using the same journalistic cliche: We report Russia “meddled” in our 2016 election – and is already “meddling” in our 2020 campaign. As in The New York Times July 25 headline that said: “Defending Inquiry, Mueller Says Russia Isn’t Done Meddling.” And the question PBS’ respected NewsHour correspondent Yamiche Alcindor asked Trump at Monday’s G-7 press conference: “Why do you think it’s appropriate to invite Russia to the G7, given that they’ve meddled in the 2016 election?”
Meddling? It’s become journalism’s mindless reflexive knee-tap default word. But Mirriam-Webster Dictionary says meddling merely means “intruding in an inconsiderate and annoying fashion ... (as in) ‘please stop meddling in your sister’s marriage, even though you mean well.’”
Russia didn’t merely meddle – Russia “attacked” America’s homeland in 2016 with cybersecurity weapons to “sabotage” America’s democracy. All US agencies agree Russia attacked to help Trump defeat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Russia successfully broke into US political computer files, stole and disseminated US political documents, subverted US social media by spreading lies and false information to help Trump win.
No doubt Trump and his strategists sigh with relief every time the very best of my media colleagues talk or write about Russia’s efforts to merely “meddle” in our elections in 2016 and 2020. What Trump needed to be asked at the G-7 – and needs to be asked until he addresses it – is:
“Why do you think it is appropriate to invite Russia to next year’s G-7 conference given the fact that your intelligence officials say Russian cyber-attackers tried to sabotage America’s democracy in 2016 – and now they’re attacking us again?”
Like presidents, we reporters also need the best words. We need them now, maybe more than ever, to make sure Americans gets the best and most accurate wake-up call about the danger that is targeting our democracy.
None of us will know who was on Santa’s list of naughty and nice this year. Not that anyone knew in the earlier years. And that’s a good thing, it keeps the fun going.
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