My father-in-law, Dick Soule, was a colorful character. He had many sayings – some of them made more sense than others – all interesting, some timely. And maybe none were more timely than the one I’m using as title for this post. Lots of people have talked about the President’s fondness for ‘alternate facts,’ a behavior embodied by his press secretary and top aides. For those who rely on digital media for their news, and tend toward information coming in fast bursts that don’t involve reading (let alone reading print publications “Of Record,”), it’s becoming tricky to know whether to believe what you hear and see.
And so the messages continue to be cranked out – about Putin, about the ‘crooked media,’ about lack of coverage of terrorist threats – even the “Bowling Green Massacre,” which – it turns out – is one of those ‘alternate’ pieces of information ginned up by a Trump aide.
Which brings me to another of my father-in-law’s sayings. He – and my husband as well – loved to distract our kids by pointing in a direction over their shoulder (particularly if there was, for instance, a brownie sitting on a plate in front of a child) and saying, “Look! A Linotype!” Linotypes, of course, haven’t been used for years…and hardly any kid (and few adults) would know what they are! But the idea of pointing in one direction to grab the cookie off your plate, or throw you off your game (just like the old Quarterback Sneak) – now that is alive and being used with verve right now.
Because, of course, it turns out that the Administration — the one that we are supposed to respect and admire — would far rather have the media get distracted on ‘proving’ that they really HAVE covered stories of terrorist threats – and covered them enough (what the heck is enough???) to exempt themselves from the criticism of the White House. At what point will the reputable media – the ‘failing’ New York Times, for instance; the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the like – respond to this kind of criticism by not responding and being distracted?
PT Barnum, famous showman, was well known for staging stunts. He talked proudly about hiring a child in a town where his circus was, to carefully place six bricks outside of the tent where his show was. People would gather, watching the child and the bricks and then, curious, they’d go inside to be entertained by acrobats, dancers, Gen Tom Thumb, and others. They’d leave, feeling that they had experienced a great show, and spread the word to their friends. Evidently – even though Ringling Brothers has announced the close of their circus – we haven’t learned the lessons Barnum wanted to teach us, more than 100 years ago: we can be duped. Over and over again, just like (as my husband likes to say) “shooting fish in a barrel.” It’s easy, and it’s working. And more than that: we know what this game is, yet still, we play it, over and over again. “Never give a sucker an even break, or smarten up a chump,” said WC Fields, who seemed to embody the spirit of Barnum years after the showman had passed. Evidently we’re the chumps, not smart enough to know that our ears are wet – and no, it’s not the rain coming down on our heads.