(Washington DC, July 19, 2020) Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace interviewed President Donald J. Trump for nearly 50 minutes today. The two men clashed on nearly every topic introduced by Wallace – Covid-19, national polls (especially Fox News polls), Joe Biden, and even a segment on Wallace trying desperately (and unsuccessfully) to convince Trump that he (Wallace) is objective and neutral in his reporting.
Each tried to persuade the other that he was presenting the truth, based on evidence in hand. The difference, of course, was the source of the “facts” which each was using. Wallace slavishly follows the statistics developed by the typical establishment sources, such as the Congressional Budget Office, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the World Trade Organization, and the World Health Service. What he never seems to understand is that each of these sources has proven over time to publish data which are sometimes deemed controversial for one reason or another by other authorities.
Some, such as the CBO habitually present predictions which are derived from controversial assumptions which undercut Republican (including the Trump Administration) positions on virtually every topic they cover, whether the national debt or the cost of health care. Others, such as Johns Hopkins, follow policies of the profession they represent – in this case Public Health – which are frequently at odds with either the trends or the actual policies of the Administration. For example, Hopkins chooses to focus on the number of COVID cases rather than mortality rates, which is the emphasis of the Administration. Hopkins also relies on locally collected data regarding the Coronavirus, over which anecdotal evidence – especially on social media – is casting an ever darker shadow.
The same pattern applies to pollsters who typically depend on brief telephone interviews with registered voters, who are home and willing to take the pollster’s call, and who are chosen according to a formula heavily weighted with Democrat voters (typically 22% of the sample) – among other questionable assumptions. As we saw in 2016, the polls on which the Real Clear averages are based can be very misleading.
What Wallace just cannot seem to understand is that his assumption of the neutrality and objectivity of these traditional data sources is misplaced, sometimes wildly so, as in the case of the differences between the actual and the polls’ predictions of the 2016 election.
Chris Wallace represents the few political commentators who are honestly trying to live up to the traditional standards of non-partisan, objective journalism exemplified by Mike Wallace, Chris’ father. What they don’t understand is the extent of Mr. Trump’s unorthodox perspective on political topics.
In this regard, the traditional resources we have been discussing are also consistently measuring and reporting Mr. Trump’s words and actions by standards which he has no intention of honoring. For example, Trump’s descriptions of his strategies on foreign affairs tend to be sketchy and easily open to misinterpretation, as in his statements on talks with the Chinese. He will typically say things like, “I have a good relationship with President Xi (or Vladimir Putin)” in response to a question about the progress of negotiations between the countries.
This is interpreted by the press as “Trump declined to discuss the talks”; or “He has no strategy”; or “Trump is being hoodwinked by the Chinese”; or the like. What he intends to reveal is nothing about the talks or his strategy because he does not want the other side to understand his strategy. In general, Trump will give similar answers to all questions which involve predictions.
The press (and pundits who rely on the press) choose to interpret these exchanges as insults, since they feel ordained by custom to be the final arbiters of what is good or bad about politicians’ words and actions. When they don’t know what the policy or strategy is, they have two choices: 1) admit they don’t know, or 2) pretend they do know. Clearly, admitting they don’t know the strategy is beneath their dignity as the all-knowing press. So, fake news is born.
This is not to say that Donald J. Trump is the soul of discretion! On the contrary, he might be called the master of hyperbole, ridicule and arrogance. These characteristics tend to mask for many his patriotism, courage, and compassion. On the other hand, working people such as truck drivers, construction workers, factory workers, and tradesmen like the way he talks because they understand him. Many recognize his plain talk, humor and fearlessness and admire him. What offends the college-educated elite speaks loudly to many others. These differences are reflected in the voting public.
Needless to say, Chris Wallace and his like-minded cohorts in the press do not fall in the ranks of the working class. In the televised interview on Sunday, the clash between these two men in some ways symbolized the cultural tension between the different strata of American society.
Neither man came out the winner of this contest. Unfortunately, the only enlightenment which came from the confrontation was perhaps demonstrated in the final segment. Wallace made a repeated plea for the President’s agreement that he (Wallace) was in fact a non-partisan commentator. All he got was the President’s opinion that Chris favored the Democrats, but that he has the right to do so.