Donald Trump is a liar. His administration have been infected with the same disingenuousness. Is it time for journalists to deny them their platforms?

First published in November 2018.

The term, boycott, for a refusal to do business or other interaction with a company, an organization, or a nation comes from one Captain Charles Boycott, whose job it was to collect rents that an English lord believed were owed to him by Irish farmers. Those farmers and local shopkeepers declined to work the land or to do any trade with the land agent, forcing the army and the Royal Irish Constabulary to do the work.

This modern form of ostracism is a blunt instrument designed to push a perceived offender into behavior that the community will approve. Its success depends on a broad enough commitment by the participants, since cheating can be profitable, and the inability of the target to find substitute goods or services. The cause must also be just, since human beings are social organisms, both economically and emotionally. Excommunicating them, if that can be done effectively, is a terrible punishment.

The question of effectiveness should forestall a lot of boycotts. Efforts to change Chick-fil-A’s stances on LGBT rights fizzled out, and attempts to damage the profits of Yeti after the company decided to step away from associations with the NRA appear to be heading the same way. A boycott that is mocked for a brief period and then ignored can be worse than doing nothing at all.

All of this is to lay out the context of what I am about to propose in this article: a boycott of the Trump administration by the news media.

After Trump’s attack on CNN’s Jim Acosta, culminating in a denial of the journalist’s press pass to the White House and after telling the same organization’s Abby Phillip that her question about whether the acting Attorney General would limit the investigative powers of Robert Mueller was stupid, I have to wonder what point there is in giving the current administration a stage on which to spew.

The definitive fact about Donald Trump and the people who support him in the White House is that they lie. Lying has been a part of the presidential repertoire for a long time, but for Trump and his enablers, the truth is not even seen as an occasional convenience.

And thus, other than allowing poor liars opportunities to polish their craft, interviews or press conferences with them serve no purpose.

I am here assuming that the press has a job to do in a free country. If we acknowledge the right of all people to participate in the leadership of their society, a corollary is that the people must have access to sufficient information to make decisions. Lies, however, are not informative beyond telling us about the character of the person speaking, and with regard to the Trump administration, that question has been answered.

There is in reporting an ethical requirement to be objective and to distinguish reporting from opinion pieces. But objectivity is not the same thing as blindness, and even with twenty-four hour news, we do not have enough time to attend to everyone with something to say. When a person has been demonstrated repeatedly to be dishonest or delusional, it is fair to note that reality or to move on.

A parallel exists here in the legal profession. While lawyers have a duty to provide effective advocacy to their clients, they may not knowingly allow those clients to commit perjury. Asking questions that elicit false testimony would be a violation of the lawyer’s professional obligations, and if a client declares an intention to lie, that fact must be disclosed to the court. This will strain the analogy a bit, but the American people are the jury sitting in judgment of our government, and journalists exist to advocate for the truth.

I said above that boycotts only work if they are generally complied with, and as was discussed on NPR’s All Things Considered on the 10 November, Fox News would be unlikely to agree to refrain from giving a platform to Trump and his people. Other right-wing media would also continue allowing them to carry on their war with reality. But that offers its own advantage in creating a credibility test for news organizations.

This is an extreme solution, but we are presented with an existential crisis for our democratic republic. In the past, a politician’s lies could be challenged, but the Gish Gallop of the present administration has taken away the luxury of point-by-point analysis in anything approaching real time.

Trump has thoroughly shown himself to be a liar. The people working for him have been infected with the same disingenuousness. Talking to them any further would be redundant, serving no good for our country. It is time for journalists to deny him their platforms.🔷

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[This piece was originally published on the PMP Blog! and re-published in PMP Magazine on 14 November 2018. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Flickr/The White House/Shealah Craighead - President Trump stops to talk to the media at the White House. | 2 November 2018.)