Everyone is born with the same amount of integrity: one hundred percent. As we drop from the womb, we haven’t betrayed any principles yet, haven’t gotten lazy when intellectually challenged, haven’t let anyone down. If we “say” we’re hungry that’s what we mean. If we say we’ve pooped or peed ourselves, we have! If we’re sad or lonely or happy as a clam, we’ll broadcast that fact as loudly and clearly as we can. We are as honest as we’re ever going to be. Then we go out into the world and one of the first things we learn how to do is be less honest. Part of that’s just what it takes to get through a day filled with different kinds of relationships. A certain amount of truthiness goes with being human and living in a human society. But, there is a line. People who take on “important jobs”, work that could genuinely mean life or death to others (airline pilots, physicians, police officers for instance) can be less than honest with their romantic partners, but we need them to be totally honest with their passengers, patients or perps. Would you allow a surgeon with questionable integrity to slice into you?
Integrity is like a balloon made of platinum. As solid as it seems, it’s easily punctured. And once punctured. it’s irreparable. If Donald Trump had a radical change of heart (and character — let’s pretend okay?) and suddenly (on the inside) became absolutely honest, would we believe him? Certainly not. And, ironically, the more Trump pled his newfound honesty, the more dishonest we’d be sure he was. That’s what happens when you bust a cap in your integrity. It dies. And the world’s perception of you solidifies: you are a liar. If Trump could keep up the act, not just insisting he was honest but actually being that way, perhaps in a few years, our skepticism would begin to subside. To the degree that one’s integrity can be repaired, the process moves as slowly as nerve regeneration in humans. Glaciers can beat it in a foot race.
And yet, our news media regularly restores the broken integrity of the very least deserving. Richard Nixon was a criminal — full stop. At the very least, Watergate should have fixed Nixon in our collective understanding as a man with zero integrity. Of course Nixon himself would want to restore his integrity — or bamboozle others into thinking he (somehow) still had some integrity to trade on. Why would our news media want to help him though? Better question: why would our news media want to put ITS integrity on the line for someone their own reporting established had none? I don’t think it’s because our journalists don’t have integrity, I think it’s because they simply don’t know (or maybe even care) what it is.
“Both sides do it” brand journalism conflates skepticism with cynicism. Suddenly everyone becomes a variation on a theme : the lust for political power. Regardless of what they actually do or say, so goes the thinking, their motives are all exactly the same. From this vantage point, NO ONE has integrity. How can they when (per the journalist doing the reporting) everyone’s hedging or gaming everyone else? This simply isn’t the case. Progressives don’t want what conservatives want; they don’t want to live in a past where white, Christian men had all the power and money — the very thing conservatives want to conserve. Progressives will tell you openly that they want a rising tide to float every possible boat. Conservatives, on the other hand, will lie to you about just about everything because, they know, if they told America the truth about them — about their motives — they’d be in jail already.
When our news media gets up on its hind legs and insists that Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy or Mark Meadows or Devin Nunes or Bill Barr or Mike Pence or Chuck Grassley or Susan Collins or Jim Jordan or Marjorie Taylor Greene or Brett Kavanaugh or Steve Bannon or Ted Cruz or anyone in the Trump clan is an “honest actor”, they’re committing journalistic malpractice. They’re labeling criminals as honest then demanding why Democrats won’t negotiate with them. But, even when our news media reports actual acts of treason — based on hard evidence they themselves have vetted — they refuse to connect the dots their reporting suggests do connect.
Example: On June 25, 2016, current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy walks into a meeting of GOP leaders — a month before the GOP will nominate Trump to be their presidential candidate. They know Trump’s candidacy is inevitable. McCarthy is worried however because he fears that Trump is corrupt: “There’s two people I think Putin pays,” he says, “Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” No one in the room balks at the thought. There’s nervous laughter — that’s what motivates McCarthy to insist “Swear to God!” He wants to be taken seriously. He wants his news to be taken seriously. But, then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan asserts his “leadership”. He shuts down the conversation. They’re not going to discuss this secret; instead, they’re going to keep it — this knowledge that a hostile foreign government has compromised the man they’re going to nominate to be POTUS. “That’s how we know we’re family,” says Speaker Ryan, third in line to the presidency himself.
No one in the room questioned these accusations of Trumpian criminality. No one doubted that they were possible. And no one insisted they they should — per their oaths of office to uphold the Constitution — call the FBI to warn them. The total amount of integrity in that room by the time the conversation finished? Absolute zero.
Has anyone in the news media gone back to revisit these shocking accusations — and the even more shocking acceptance of them? To be fair, yeah — a few intrepid reporters have questioned Kevin McCarthy about “There’s two people I think Putin pays”. Kevin insisted he was just joking — and that (as always) ends the discussion even though it’s demonstrable that Kevin McCarthy (like Donald Trump) has no sense of humor. Bullies, as an absolute rule, NEVER have a sense of humor. It’s part of why they’re bullies. Oh, sure — bullies can laugh. But bullies (think Donald Trump) never laugh with others (except other bullies), they always laugh AT others. See the difference?
Since then, Kevin’s reported-upon statement has sat in the Trump-Russia evidence room, gathering dust. That’s a reflection of our news media’s integrity or lack thereof.
I’m old enough to remember how connecting Trump to Russia only ever got you rolling eyes in response. Same goes for describing Trump and the GOP as authoritarians and fascists. As we stand here today, those who correctly spotted the GOP’s authoritarian and fascist leanings were right: they still have their integrity on the subject. Those who shrugged off what the Republicans were/are doing? I’m not sure I’d ask their advice on a lunch order any more. I wouldn’t trust their taste as I wouldn’t trust they were telling me the truth. It’s not just Republicans whose integrity has been destroyed by Trumpism. Silence in the face of this attack is tacit complicity.
Anyone complicit in this coup d’etat blew up their integrity a long time ago.
When Trump openly told his four underlings NOT to cooperate with the January 6 Truth Commission, he openly committed a crime. Citizen Trump doesn’t have the authority President Trump had to say such a thing without criminal liability. It’s not a question whether or not Trump did this thing — he deliberately broadcast it as part of his strategy. That doesn’t legitimize it. It should, instead, make prosecuting this bloated orange pirate a thousand times easier. But, that would demand that our news media stop reporting Trump as a politician and start reporting him as what he is: a stone cold criminal in the middle of a treasonous crime spree.
I wish it were possible to buy our news media some integrity. Hell, they need it so desperately, I’d even steal it for them.