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Getting worrisome: On poll results as ‘fake news’ and terrorist attacks as ‘unreported’

The president dealt with low Gallup poll numbers by an act of denial that seems to serve him well, but that is a tad nervous-making for those of us in the reality-based community.

President Donald Trump receiving a figurine of a sheriff during a meeting with county sheriffs at the White House on Tuesday.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Donald Trump has the lowest approval rating of any new president ever, and it’s gone steadily lower over the first two weeks of his term.  As I write this on Tuesday night, Gallup has him at 42 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove. On Inauguration Day, Gallup had him at 45 approve, 45 disapprove; it’s headed the wrong way. He still gets “approval” from a huuuge majority of Republicans. But disapproval among an even huger majority of Democrats and also, tellingly, below-water ratings from independents, leave his ratings in the toilet, compared to other first term incumbents in the modern polling era.

It’s worth mentioning that approval ratings a few weeks into your term, and 3.9 years before you would have to face the electorate again, aren’t really that important. It would be fine with me if all the polling being done was reduced by 90 percent. But, when you have a president with as delicate an ego as the current incumbent, bad approval ratings could, perhaps, cause him to act even crazier.

Instead, the current incumbent dealt with it by an act of denial that seems to serve him well, but that is a tad nervous-making for those of us in the reality-based community. According to the newly declared “Trump Rules,” polls like the one mentioned above, even from the august Gallup operation, constitute “fake news.”

I’m not being sarcastic. Trump literally tweeted that “Any negative polls are fake news,” and who am I to argue with the man who commands the Army, the Navy, the IRS, the Justice Department — and who has the nuclear codes.

‘All over Europe’

Trump is an expert on “fake news” because he makes it all the time. The other day, Trump said that terrorist attacks were happening “all over Europe” and that “it’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. … In many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”

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He didn’t elucidate upon those reasons, so I’m just going to assume it’s because reporters are in league with the terrorists and the terrorists don’t like it when we make a big deal about them blowing stuff up. I would have said that the terrorists like us to mention such things, so we’ll be more terrorized, but I wouldn’t know.

There’s just one problem. White House press spokester Sean Spicer (Lord, do I pity that guy; how can his new gig not be a stonewall drag?) was asked by the Washington press corps to divulge some of the terrorist attacks, that Trump knows about, but that are “not even being reported” because, you know, Rosebud.

Anyway, Spicer was prepared. And it turned out that he had a list of exactly zero terrorist reports from “all over Europe” or anywhere else, that were “not even … reported.” He had a list of 78 attacks some in the U.S., some in Europe, some in the Mideast, some involving casualties, some involving no serious injuries at all. And, guess what? All of them were, as you might expect, “reported” — but only if by “reported” one means “reported,” as in the news. In other words, none of them were unreported and many of them were very widely reported, but Spicer, who I believe has several fingers and toes still planted in reality but has to pretend otherwise to keep his job, changed the standard. He said that many of the 78 attacks, while reported, were (drum roll here) “underreported.”

Underreported is reported

Maybe so. Maybe not. First of all, underreported is reported and not “not even being reported.” Second of all, views can differ about how a big a deal the news media should make of things that happen, like including attacks in which no one was injured. And the key decision-makers on how newsworthy newsworthy things are would be news organizations. That’s pretty much in their purview, if by “purview” one means it’s their job. And people who are not journalists are entitled to have an opinion, and express an opinion on whether the professionals made too much or too little of an event.

Among the “underreported” incidents were the December 2015 massacre by a married Muslim couple (one American born, one a lawful permanent resident) that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, and the June 2016 massacre at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 and wounded 53. Assuming those attacks a ring a bell with you because of the days and weeks of front-page and round-the-clock TV coverage they received, that might cause you wonder whether the perception of “undercovered” attacks might be in the eye the beholder, and possibly a very biased beholder at that.

But let’s not even go there. Because all of attacks on the White House list were reported. So what is Trump’s statement that many terrorist attacks are “not even being reported”? A slip of the tongue? A falsehood? A lie? Oh, I know: Fake news, as reported by a nonreporter whose idea of real news is that the New York Times is “failing,” that those who differ with him are liars and/or nasty, and/or crooked.  

Trump can say what he wants and do what he wants and, if necessary, if he really crosses the line, maybe can pardon himself. But the idea that we have a president who thinks that Gallup fakes its poll numbers and that underreported means unreported and that any evidence that he is not not universally loved and admired constitutes “fake news” worries me a fair bit.