Folding like a cheap suit, Donald Trump once again signaled that he's going to stand in the way of any kind of gun reform legislation in the wake of two more massacres that left 31 people dead and dozens more injured. Trump lying about gun laws and brazenly walking back his public pledges for action was completely predictable. You can set your clocks to this stuff.
And yes, the press was willingly duped again. In the immediate wake of the massacres, lots of news outlets rushed to report that Trump supported the passage of background check legislation and that this time, Republicans might really act! Then when Trump inevitably walked it all back—after checking in with the NRA—the press concocted hollow reasons for his lying ways.
The New York Times actually suggested Trump opted to side with his "populist white and working-class political base," and do nothing on passing any gun laws. What the Times conveniently omitted was the fact that Trump's base supports passing new gun laws. We know that because polling confirms over and over that basically everyone in America is in favor of passing new gun laws. It's truly astonishing how reporters ignore this key fact in order to portray Trump as being super-savvy and doubling down with his supporters.
And that raises the question: Are reporters and editors being duped, or are they willingly playing roles in this national charade, which revolves around the specific topic of guns? But the larger issue remains the media's senseless normalization of Trump. Indeed, this is one of the inevitable results when newsrooms won't identify Trump as the compulsive liar that he is: Journalists then have to scramble to concoct reasons for why his policies change. Trump has been lying about his support for gun legislation for years. But because the press won't state the obvious truth, he gets to do it over and over and journalists play along, pretending that maybe this time things will work out differently.
The fact that Trump's hate rhetoric inspires mass shootings, and then he compounds the crisis by refusing to curb the militarization of white nationalist groups, only exacerbates the media’s failings. Meaning: This is a truly deadly issue that deserves clear, accurate reporting. But spending days after a mass shooting pretending that Trump's seriously considering doing anything about America's gun epidemic does not constitute clear, accurate reporting. It only makes things worse because it disguises the fact that a radical minority represented by the NRA and the GOP leadership helps perpetuate this country's gun violence crisis.
"Trump faces what may be a defining choice in the days to come," ABC News recently stressed. "He could confront his own party and some of its most powerful backers on a stubborn issue that has provoked raw emotions, or backtrack as he has after previous episodes of awful violence." I must say the idea that anyone who covers politics for a living actually thought there was even a 1% chance Trump would "confront his own party" as well as the NRA over guns really does boggle the mind. It's pure fantasy, and nothing more. And it's an attempt to normalize Trump—to make believe there was hope he might act in a reasonable manner when faced with a burgeoning crisis.
Still, we saw reporters dutifully type up claims from anonymous administration sources who insisted the White House was hard at work on the issue. "White House officials have been putting together several different policy proposals and the White House's legislative affairs team has been sounding out key legislators on Capitol Hill on those proposals, a senior administration official said," CNN reported. Trump "genuinely wants" to expand background checks, Axios claimed, citing White House officials. And, "In the aftermath of the shootings, which killed a combined 31 people, Trump has signaled a willingness to support congressional efforts" to pass gun laws, ABC News stressed.
Of course, it all turned out to be empty spin.
More recently, the Daily Beast reported, "Donald Trump has already started to pump the brakes on his support for background checks legislation." But to believe that, you have to assume Trump ever cared about background check legislation in the first place, and has ever had a single honest conversation about it. At this point, it's not clear why journalists would believe either is true. In other words, to portray Trump as losing interest in background check legislation since the El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, massacres is to buy into the phony White House premise that he was ever interested. It's even more startling to watch the press buy into this charade after having watched the exact same con game unfold after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting last year, where 17 students and faculty members were murdered.
In the immediate wake of that massacre, Trump mouthed words of encouragement regarding gun safety laws ("We’re going to be very strong on background checks. We’re going to be doing very strong background checks"), only to have most legislative action completely shut down by the GOP-controlled Senate, after Trump met privately with NRA officials. He soon announced background checks were out and fortifying American schools and arming teachers were in, just as the NRA dictated. Yet against that very recent backdrop, reporters actually took at face value comments from Trump about enacting new laws following the carnage in El Paso and Dayton? Amazing. Journalists are either wildly naïve, or they don't mind playing along with this charade.
Note: Credit goes to CNN's Erin Burnett, who was among a handful of high-profile journalists that, days after the August massacres, forcefully called out Trump's long trail of deceptions regarding his supposed support for passing gun laws. "History shows you can’t take him at his word," she stressed.
And she was right.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.
This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.