Sunday, January 8, 2017


By Dominique Paul Noth

Media euphemism used without permission.
There has been a longstanding reluctance within the news media – only slightly broken of late.  Never use “lie” and “liar” about candidates for presidential office – or even for lower offices.

Strange isn’t it?   There’s a concession that every politician exaggerates, obfuscates or at worse deals with falsehoods. Yet there has been some sort of gentleman’s agreement to avoid distemper, which translates into not telling the unabashed truth about the oral attacks even as the assaults grow more hysterical. Indeed, it is often the liar who takes the stage to accuse his opponent of lying (hello, Ron Johnson), which makes the term “liar!” even  more suspect.

Media watchers tend to use euphemistic phrases like Pinocchios, Half True, Half False and  in painfully obvious cases Pants on Fire.  But historically  not lie and liar.  You have to go all the way back to the 19th century to find the Mark Twain quote: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” which he attributed to a British politician, Benjamin Disraeli. (The British Parliament has proven more open to wit than the American editorial page.)

I grew up as a journalist in that forced civility – like film-makers under the old 1930s Production Code who had to find ways to suggest sex without saying sex. Now I both appreciate the restraint and resent the failure to know when to throw restraint  aside.

We journalists frankly enraged much of the public in the 2016 presidential campaign when the country had entered a bombastic balloon of accusations and insults that warranted being called out by their rightful name – and we didn’t. We went through more than a year of false equivalency – sure, he said that, but didn’t she say something? Sure he drips venom and untruths at every rally, but what about her emails, her health, those suspicious people gathered around her?

Twenty years from now, I suspect, most people and certainly historians will be hard pressed to identify what horrible things she did. Especially compared to the actual words that fell out of his mouth with such ease.

Many news sites decided, as the Wall Street Journal recently admitted it did, that it was not their place to call out Donald Trump for falsehoods but to lay both sides out for the citizens to decide themselves. In other words, it  defended its own cowardice. 

If  one side attacks, just find someone on the other side to invent context. Kellyanne Conway is always at the ready.

While WSJ is clearly afraid of offending its audience, as are many TV outlets,  advertising agencies haven’t been this squirrely for decades, taking more liberties with the veracity of their content than the TV and sports news that surround them.  Even when forced by federal regulations,  pharmacology companies  whip through or run in smallest print the contra-indications of every new medicine. Banks and insurance companies promise they are much nicer than the other guy.  “I approve this message” does not mean that accuracy will follow. Macy’s helps Gimbels only in old movies.

The media no longer feels obliged to call a snake  a snake, just to be delicate about  how it describes the snake.

Rachel Maddow
Thank God for Rachel Maddow.  On her MSNBC show Jan. 6, she brought what’s left of that wall tumbling down, referring to Trump’s interpretation and pretense about the national intelligence assessment 12 times as lie, lying or liar – overtly, blatantly, bluntly lying in a way she said that sent shivers down the spine of a practiced news observer.  The video is here.

She did not exaggerate and it was past time someone ripped the emperor’s clothes off.

Just remember what the intelligence assessment didn’t do that Trump claims it did  – explore whether the hacking, the supplying to Wikileaks of selective Democratic  staff emails, the propaganda and planted stories,   including claims of Hillary’s poor health, crookedness and even depression, had a decisive effect on the election. Not their call, the agencies said.

Since voting machines weren’t hacked despite the messing with election boards, Trump backers can always claim the voters rose above the propaganda and decided for themselves – that the surrounding noise did not influence how they voted. What do you think they are – stooges?

This is what obviously concerns Trump and why he so desperately fights the obvious analysis.  The revelations cast doubt on the legitimacy of his election, even though the intelligence  agencies didn’t go there.  Yet his big lie was saying they did, that they exonerated him.  That was not in the agencies’ purview. 

A smaller lie was claiming the Republican National Committee computers were too protected to be hacked while the report indicates they were hacked  but the Russians didn’t act on the material the way they did the Clinton stuff. So here’s  another demonstration that Trump was what Putin wanted – not from the start perhaps, where animosity to Clinton’s objections to his 2011 shenanigans set Putin off. That alone revealed she was quite an influential secretary of state.

On the  petty level of egotistical businessman, you can understand Trump’s concern.  Maybe he didn’t honestly win as he keeps saying he did.  But as a president he cannot afford to be so ego centric.
The intelligence agencies did not say he won by hook and crook, but now that  question should certainly be there for the general public, those who voted for and against.

How much of the Russian assault was swallowed wholesale by the media and the public?   Where came the media false equivalency to find balance where there was not – deleted emails as an equal error to Trump’s swiftly  moving litany of the ludicrous and licentious, suggesting that her world-honored charitable foundation was no cleaner than his much sued concoction?

Thinking voters now have to ask themselves: Was it a desire for change that triggered them or a rejection of Hillary’s competence inspired by all the false reporting?  There are no do-overs, but there deserves to be self-examination.

Hillary  says she’s not a natural politician, just a competent leader. Trump is clearly a born salesman in a peculiar American tradition.  But many voters looked past the bulk of what he says and does to decide they didn’t want another damn Clinton, even one quite different than hubby.  But if 1% of the Trump voters were misled by the Russian blitz, Clinton would easily be president.

As hard as it is for Trump to admit a good portion of the public may have been duped,  it’s going to be harder for that public to acknowledge its own foolishness.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for 

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