Tuesday’s New York Times led with Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Maggie Haberman rushing to tar President Trump’s criticism of the “deep state” and the mainstream press as corrosive, paranoid, and conspiratorial (while unwittingly strengthening his case) in “Trump’s Embrace Of ‘Spygate” Plot Sows Suspicions -- Eroding Public Trust -- Conspiracy Theories Are Brought From Fringes to the Oval Office.” The text box didn’t offer much benefit of the doubt: “Ex-aides cite political opportunism and the president’s paranoia”:
Last week, President Trump promoted new, unconfirmed accusations to suit his political narrative: that a “criminal deep state” element within Mr. Obama’s government planted a spy deep inside his presidential campaign to help his rival, Hillary Clinton, win -- a scheme he branded “Spygate.” It was the latest indication that a president who has for decades trafficked in conspiracy theories has brought them from the fringes of public discourse to the Oval Office.
The reporters also whined about the deleterious effect of Trump’s rhetoric on the media’s reputation, while serving up still more reasons to distrust the press:
Now that he is president, Mr. Trump’s baseless stories of secret plots by powerful interests appear to be having a distinct effect. Among critics, they have fanned fears that he is eroding public trust in institutions, undermining the idea of objective truth and sowing widespread suspicions about the government and news media that mirror his own.
They then found a fellow liberal journalist to make the case -- former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham:
“The effect on the life of the nation of a president inventing conspiracy theories in order to distract attention from legitimate investigations or other things he dislikes is corrosive,” said Jon Meacham, a presidential historian and biographer. “The diabolical brilliance of the Trump strategy of disinformation is that many people are simply going to hear the charges and countercharges, and decide that there must be something to them because the president of the United States is saying them.”
But Mr. Trump’s willingness to peddle suspicion as fact has implications beyond the Russia inquiry. It is a vital ingredient in the president’s communications arsenal, a social media-fueled, brashly expressed narrative of dubious accusations and dark insinuations that allows him to promote his own version of reality.
Students of Mr. Trump’s life and communication style argue that the idea of conspiracies is a vital part of his strategy to avoid accountability and punch back at detractors, real or perceived, including the news media.
No thought was spared for the possibility that Trump may have legitimate concerns about the intelligence community:
Former aides to the president, speaking privately because they did not want to embarrass him, said paranoia predisposed him to believe in nefarious, hidden forces driving events. But they also said political opportunism informed his promotion of conspiracy theories. For instance, two former aides said Mr. Trump had resisted using the term “deep state” for months, partly because he believed it made him look too much like a crank.
The Times conveniently lumped in bizarre notions like pre-knowledge of the 9-11 attacks to reasonable concerns about the FBI’s machinations against the Trump campaign during the 2016 election cycle:
Mr. Trump’s talk of conspiracies has also gained currency within a Republican Party establishment that once shunned it.
Meanwhile, Davis and Haberman briefly nodded across the aisle:
Mr. Trump is not the first public figure to charge that he is the subject of a shadowy plot. Mrs. Clinton memorably declared during impeachment proceedings against her husband, Bill Clinton, that they were the victims of a “vast, right-wing conspiracy,” although the president himself never used the word at the time.
Yet even when they quoted defenses of Trump, they were couched in an eye-rolling tone:
Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican who is sometimes a critic of Mr. Trump, said one need not believe in conspiracies to recognize that the president was onto something with his seemingly far-fetched charges.
Davis recently embarrassed herself by tweeting an aggrieved defense of her profession against the charge of “fake news” after a kid yelled "Fake News!" at her at a rally in Nashville. Then she promptly justified those very concerns by having to correct her reporting on that same rally, in which she massively understated the size of the crowd (5,500, not 1,000).