Margaret Sullivan Warns of the Dangers of Accepting Doublethink

Things are getting pretty Orwellian.

When Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan puts into words what it would have looked like had the media, not “[taken] everything that Donald Trump said so literally,” as Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski admonished the press for doing at the Harvard Campaign Manager’s Conference, the effect is farcical:

So, how should Trump’s statements during the campaign have been covered? Should reporters have added something like this in the second paragraph of every news story? “Trump probably didn’t mean that he would appoint a special prosecutor/build a wall/deport millions of immigrants. His statements are not meant to be taken literally but rather as broad suggestions of a feeling he was experiencing on a particular day.”

She had a larger point about how to carry on when Trump surrogates claim that it’s now a post-truth world we must inhabit, but what catches our eye about that particular paragraph is that it’s a great example of how silly criticism that may sound good in the abstract looks in a real-life application.

Lewandowski is not the first person to bring up that idea. Salena Zito used it in a report for The Atlantic in September. Peter Thiel in a speech at the National Press Club in October. For understanding Trump supporters, it’s a useful prescription, but as a reporting principal, it’s pretty useless. Conjecture and prophecy aren’t quite journalistic ideals, as this year’s horse race coverage disaster has so painfully demonstrated.