"A Narrative We Thought We Knew Is Not the Reality"

Words worth remembering.


For the full Politico story, see here; for Glenn Greenwald's summary, see here, though I thought I'd quote an excerpt:

For more than a year, it has been consecrated media fact that former President Donald Trump and his White House, on June 1 of last year, directed the U.S. Park Police to use tear gas against peaceful Lafayette Park protesters, all to enable a Trump photo-op in front of St. John's Church. That this happened was never presented as a possibility or likelihood but as indisputable truth. And it provoked weeks of unmitigated media outrage, presented as one of the most egregious assaults on the democratic order in decades.

This tale was so pervasive in the media landscape that it would be impossible for any one article to compile all the examples. "Peaceful Protesters Tear-Gassed To Clear Way For Trump Church Photo-Op," read the NPR headline on June 1. The New York Times ran with: "Protesters Dispersed With Tear Gas So Trump Could Pose at Church." CNN devoted multiple segments to venting indignation while the on-screen graphic declared: "Peaceful Protesters Near White House Tear-Gassed, Shot With Rubber Bullets So Trump Can Have Church Photo Op."

You can decide for yourselves how important, or not, this particular story was itself in the grand scheme of things. But it's a good reminder to be skeptical, whether one is a news reporter or a consumer of news reporting. Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.

NEXT: The Supreme Court Reins in the CFAA in Van Buren

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  1. I doubt they thought it was true when they reported it.

    1. Anybody who’s even the tiniest bit shocked by this was not paying attention.

      For better than four years, the media just reported anything they thought would damage Trump, without the slightest regard for whether or not it was true. Now that he’s safely defeated, they’re trying to get their honesty out of hock.

      1. ‘For better than four years, the media just reported anything they thought would damage Trump,’

        AKA the thing Trump was saying and doing.

        1. I bet you genuinely did not notice one anonymously sourced story after another falling apart. You just digested them when they first came out, and never noticed the falling apart phase.

    2. I doubt they cared. It supported what they wanted to say, so they didn’t bother to check anything.

  2. Clearly they pushed a narrative to remove Trump and now think they can buy our absolution.

  3. Pretty much sums up the narrative and “white supremacy” hysterics last year

  4. So, is it better to clear protesters for a fence installation rather than a photo-op?

    1. Is it better to be a jackass or an imbecile?

    2. Your point is a legit one. But so is Eugene’s gravamen: The original stories (and their follow-ups) were apparently just wrong.

      It is interesting that people within Trump’s inner circle also believed the story to be true. I’m not sure what it says about you as a leader when your own supporters can easily believe that you’d do this for a church photo opp, but it ain’t good.

      One thing I’ve seen over the past few decades (Dem and Rep candidates and politicians) is that stories have “legs” when the stories feed into a believable narrative. So, when Trump (a lifelong atheist and lifelong mocker of all things religious) pretended to be religious, and when we could not name a book in the Bible, and when he didn’t know which of One Corinthians and First Corinthians was correct . . . well, all those things creative a narrative of Trump as (1) a non-believer, and (2) a person who would pretend to be a believer, and (3) a person who would exploit religion for his political benefit.

      None of the above excuses inaccurate reporting. But it goes a long way to explaining why the story was accepted so quickly and willingly by many/most across the political spectrum.

      1. <i The original stories (and their follow-ups) were apparently just wrong.

        Propaganda is not a mistake. They did not get it wrong, they got it exactly the way they intended.

        And you, or anyone has no right to question anyone’s faith.

        1. Last point is utter bullshit, of course. What moron would say that we should not always always always evaluate what a politician says or does in his/her effort to be (re)elected? That applies as well to being religious, being gun friendly/unfriendly, being gay friendly/unfriendly, being pro environment, being pro/anti-abortion. Is there something about religion makes it especially magical for you and immune from the critical analysis of voters? Or does it apply as well to all the above issues, and you would never dream of examining some candidates proffered thoughts, for fear of being unworthy/incapable of questioning someone’s faith, or bona fides re guns, or commitment to abortion rights, and so on.

          You have an unusual (and remarkably trusting) approach to politics. And to living in the world with flawed humans, where everyone on earth but you sees value in examining public words/actions of political and important people, in a search for honesty.

          It takes all kinds, I guess.

        2. There isn’t really any question about Trump’s ‘faith.’

          1. Any more than there is Obama’s? I tend to assume all politicians are faking it, unless they have a track record of good works confirming it, like Rand Paul’s pro-bono medical work.

            I didn’t really care, we weren’t electing a bishop.

      2. “It is interesting that people within Trump’s inner circle also believed the story to be true.”

        Did they, really? Or were they just reported to have believed it true?

      3. Your point is a legit one.

        No, it isn’t. It isn’t even a point. It’s a weak attempt at a red herring argument.

    3. Doug,
      Clearing the park is not the story, Your question is intentional deflection.
      The media invented propaganda to confuse you. They lied. You believe the lie. The Propaganda agents are the voice of the Democrat Party. Lies
      Lies are the story.
      *CATASTROPHIC, Anthropological, Global, Climate, Change, CAGCC.
      *Systemic racism
      *Russia Collusion
      *Impeachment 1
      *impeachment 2
      Same Propaganda Agents told all those stories
      And we haven’t even gotten into COIVID yet.
      Today Fauci is still yammering on about needing 70% vaccinated. yet not a single propaganda agent will even ask the question about those past infected with natural immunity. A number of 80 million, according to the CDC.
      Because you Doug still believe the lies.

      1. Since we have ~34 million cases reported, why do you believe the CDC about that number. You don’t believe anything else that hey say.

        1. Do you really think the number is 34MM Don Nico? I do not. We will never know the true final number of people infected.

        2. ~34 million, ~80 million, is not really the issue is it?
          Why did the CDC stop including the infected in their calculation of herd immunity?
          We can all speculate, but we do know the switch had nothing to do with science.
          That leaves propaganda.
          The subject of this post.

    4. Were you always a moron or did Trump make you into one?

      1. “Were you always a moron or did Trump make you into one?”

        Are you talking to your reflection?

    5. Yes, since these “protesters” were, in reality, insurrectionists!

  5. I’ll add one important item to this. Once again, the Federalist is correct, and the mainstream news media was wrong.

    That’s going to happen more often than not. If the Federalist is wrong on a story, the mainstream media will dig to find it out, then yell to high heavens about the error. So the Federalists checks and double checks its stories.

    But, if the mainstream media is wrong, they simply double down on the story and go with the repeat it enough strategy. It’s not like many of their readers will bother to look at other sites….

    1. What do you mean, “If” the Federalist is wrong on a story? They’ve never been anything other than wrong since Trump. They don’t even check, let alone double check. (Remember how Mollie Hemmingway claimed that she had proof that no tear gas was used and that the media was lying? Based on nothing except the fact that the government denied tear gas was used? Except that this report confirms that tear gas was used.)

  6. Glad the media is giving this as much airtime as the original hysterics. /sarc

  7. Before getting too smug about this narrow investigation by a Trump appointed Inspector General, consider that there were heated denials that tear gas was ever used; that narrative was debunked and this report at least acknowledges that much, and observes that “The USPP civil disturbance unit commander, the USPP operations commander, and the USPP incident commander all told us that the Secret Service lieutenant later apologized for the early entry onto H Street during the operation but did not explain why it occurred.”

    Maybe you should practice some skepticism of your own with regard to a report that supports your preferred narrative?

    1. Credulous Man.

    2. Nah, the fact that nobody from the Trump administration pushed back on the reason, but rather on random side issues like tear gas, is going to be forgotten, and this will be an excuse for Republicans to ignore the excesses against protestors.

      This is how they forgive and absolve themselves.

      Also note the sweeping title – do I hear someone reconciling themselves to a coming authoritarian swing? It is naturally easier to do if you’re already in-group.

      1. and this will be an excuse for Republicans to ignore the excesses against protestors.
        Are you referring the excess used by the Mayor of DC. She did order the use of Tear Gas against protestors.

      2. “Nah, the fact that nobody from the Trump administration pushed back on the reason”

        OK, seriously: How do you know? Personal conversations with them?

        Or reporting from the same media outlets pushing the original lie?

        1. Amazing that a campaign with a billion dollars or a President with Twitter could be blocked from pushing back.

          They wanted the story reported then to make Trump look tough. Now they want the reverse story, probably to defend the January 6 insurrection.

      3. So what caused the church fire?

        Spontaneous combustion?

    3. And also they didn’t interview anyone from the agencies present besides park police, admitted the BOP et al. didn’t get the instruction to not gas them, didn’t talk to anyone in the DOJ, and didn’t talk to Barr.

      The most generous interpretation is parks police intended a far less violent move to get room to install the fences, then some more agencies jumped in and it was scaled up into a violent shitshow to make way for The Orange One.

      This article comes off like Barr’s summary of the Mueller Report. Not the level of nuance and attention to detail I’ve come to expect from Prof. Volokh.

      1. You too need to RTFA. Your TDS is showing.

      2. fafalone, that’s about the way I have it too. Especially the knock on Volokh. He really needs to stay away from the, “dishonest mainstream media,” bandwagon. You can look like a clown riding around on that thing.

        Given especially eager approvals for this alternative explanation, I wonder if those doing the approving really believe that it is (or ought to be) standard policy to attack peaceful demonstrators with tear gas, as a method to accommodate a fence construction schedule. Of course, I get that right wingers will deny that any anti-Trump demonstration has ever been peaceful.

        As a matter of premonition, I expect to see the Trayvon Martining of this episode. You get a controversy which any sensible person would conclude can’t be untangled, because there is too much contention, and too few facts to permit conclusive judgment. But delusional right wingers seize on some bit of official pronouncement which comes out to their liking. Forever afterward—in their insistence—the whole thing goes down as absolutely decided factually, with anyone who says otherwise engaged in media conspiracy. That is what I call Trayvon Martining.

        Most claims of media conspiracy against the likes of the NYT are really little more than confessions of ignorance about challenges encountered by people doing their level best to gather news. But, admittedly, those charging conspiracy are of two kinds.

        A few of a cynical kind know better, but want dupes to believe lies they plan to serve up. Those cynics proactively denigrate sources of better information. They are the ones who invented the term, “mainstream media.”

        The second kind are the dupes the cynics target. The dupes know zero about what honest news gathering looks like, how difficult it is, or why it is challenging. They just snap eagerly at whatever odoriferous confirmation-bias morsels come out of the cynics’ rot-stew bait buckets. The dupes have the discernment of seagulls.

        I say these things as someone who has been insistently critical of bad media, including bad media prestigiously practiced by the NYT, as it too often is. The point is that to criticize media legitimately, you have to know something about what media people do, and be able to compare that to what they could do, and what they ought to do. For folks who know nothing about any of that, I have these questions: How do you suppose you know anything at all about the public life of this nation? Where does your information actually come from? The public narrative you believe to be true—do you suppose you discovered that for yourself, first hand, from your own experience?

        A lot of folks suppose they practice something they call, “critical thinking.” Whatever that is, I just wish most people would put it aside in favor of asking constantly, “How do I know that?”

        1. Do you understand the difference between bias and incompetence?

          Incompetence makes mistakes in all directions. Bias always makes mistakes in the same direction.

          If the NYT, occasionally, had mistakenly said nice things about Trump, or mistakenly cleared him of wrongdoing, that would indicate incompetence. That all the mistakes were damaging is bias.

          1. Kinda confirms that whining about bias is really resentment that you’re not being afforded special treatment.

            1. The whole point is that the media *does* treat conservatives, and Trump even more so, with a special hostility.

              All your apologetics will not change our hide that.

        2. <You can look like a clown riding around on that thing.

          If ever there was an authority on looking like a clown….

      3. Not investigating other parts of government is how IG investigations work. Conservatives were upset three years ago when the DOJ IG did not chase evidence that the “Midyear Exam” abuses had roots beyond the DOJ and FBI. This IG investigation followed the exact same rules.

    4. “Trump appointed Inspector General”

      Still suffering from TDS after all this time. Next time RTFA:

      “Greenblatt has been around Washington for a long time, occupying numerous key positions in the Obama administration, including investigative counsel at the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General and Assistant Inspector General for Investigations at Obama’s Commerce Department.”

      1. Republicans who were competent at their jobs could advance under Obama; by contrast, at the end of the last administration, they were down to a motley band of acting cabinet members, lickspittles and incompetents, and even some of them bailed after January 6th.

        Conspicuously, you ignore many relevant points raised: lies about tear gas, early entry by the Secret Service, and the failure to obtain so much relevant evidence.

        1. Conveniently, but predictably, you ignored the *central* point: that the media lied to the public by pushing a false story.

          1. One request to the Park Police is redacted, but the acting chief of the Park Police was given no reason for it: “He said he rejected the request and reiterated to the official the USPP’s operational plan and stated the clearing operation would begin once all law enforcement officers under the command o f the USPP were in place.” Sounds like maybe they were asked to change the timing.

            Later in the report, “when asked to move up the timeline for clearing the park [REDACTED] earlier in the afternoon on June 1, the USPP acting chief of police declined to do so.” Maybe the redacted request, maybe a different one.

            “At approximately 6:16 p.m., contrary to the operational plan and before the USPP gave the first dispersal warning, the Secret Service entered H Street from Madison Place.” The Secret Service is well known for its primary mission of securing construction sites.

            The Attorney General popping in to ask who will rid POTUS of these troublesome protesters couldn’t have altered anyone’s timeline. But government lawyers now want cases dismissed because “Trump and other U.S. officials are immune from civil lawsuits over police actions taken to protect a president and to secure his movements”.

            “D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco told lawmakers that defense officials were searching for crowd-control technology deemed too unpredictable to use in war zones and had authorized the transfer of about 7,000 rounds of ammunition to the D.C. Armory as protests against police use of force and racial injustice roiled Washington.” The famous heat rays and sonic weapons were unavailable, but they did use helicopters flying dangerously low.

            The central point appears to be that the story has changed and the previous stories should be sent down the memory hole.

    5. “consider that there were heated denials that tear gas was ever used; that narrative was debunked and this report at least acknowledges that much,”

      Really? Where? Link and quote needed here

      Note: one agent spraying pepper spray at an attacker does NOT equal “used tear gas to clear the area”. And only a liar would claim otherwise

      1. It wasn’t one agent using pepper spray. WUSA Channel 9, the CBS affiliate, had reporters on the scene and covered it at . That page has multiple pictures of multiple tear gas canisters that the reporters observed at the time on the scene emitting noxious gas, or found on the scene, still warm to the touch. The specific types of noxious gas included Stinger Ball and SPEDE-HEAT CS. Click the link, read the article, see for yourself.

  8. If US news media report something, you know they have a political agenda and reporting it furthers their agenda. You generally should assume it’s false or misleading until you find out otherwise.

  9. What is the definition of peaceful public assembly? My definition would not include throwing bricks, frozen water bottles, or fire works at LEOs. All that and worse had been going on for a couple of days before a contractor was hired to put up a fence to keep the yahoos out of restricted areas they had entered. As the links pointed out clearing the area so the contractors could do their job was planned and in the works well before the Trump PR stunt was even a gleam in his eye. One of the supposed strengths of America is that we are a nation of laws; not a nation of men. Just my two cents but even if Trump took advantage of the boots on the ground to stage a PR event that is no reason for the MSM to distort the truth.

  10. Look, I have a question. Were ANY of the Trump scandals real?

    I’m serious. The first impeachment was over his investigation of Biden that later revelations showed were 100% real. Biden accepted bribes.

    The accusations of “conspiracy mongering” about COVID are now shown to be well grounded, as the lab in Wuhan was doing gain of function research on coronaviruses.

    The Flynn case was revealed to be a deliberate hit by the DOJ with the explicit goal of getting Flynn arrested or fired.

    Trump’s border actions were so heinous that they are practically indistinguishable from Biden’s.

    In fact, multiple scandals turned out to be crimes committed against Trump. The FBI illegally monitored his campaign with brazenly falsified warrant applications. The New York Times published his tax information, not only revealing that he didn’t commit any financial crimes, but committing a felony in the process.

    Seriously. With the possible exception of the post-election conspiracy theories, were any of Trump’s scandals real? Even then, you can hardly blame the man for being paranoid after so many brazen falsehoods told about him over the years.

    1. Are you one of those who believe that the coronavirus doesn’t exist AND that it is a biological super-weapon created by the Chinese? That the January 6th insurrectionists were peaceful tourists AND raging Antifa terrorists out to frame Trump supporters?

      Briefly, everything you said is wrong. All of those were real Trump scandals, along with the Access Hollywood tape, porn star payoffs, repeated obstruction of justice, and letting hundreds of thousands of Americans die unnecessarily.

      1. Are you one of those who believe that the coronavirus doesn’t exist AND that it is a biological super-weapon created by the Chinese?

        Option 3: It was a biological experiment that accidentally escaped a lab in Wuhan.

        That the January 6th insurrectionists were peaceful tourists AND raging Antifa terrorists out to frame Trump supporters?

        Option 3: It was a protest that bordered on riot. Because if I’m seriously planning an insurrection, all I’m going to bring is viking horns and zip ties.

    2. The first impeachment was over his investigation of Biden that later revelations showed were 100% real. Biden accepted bribes.

      The almost-certain-true fact that Hunter Biden engaged in influence peddling is irrelevant. Trump personally (and corruptly, according the allegation) targeted Biden just to smear his father.

      1. Yeah, that’s just “all the details were wrong, but the story was true!” reasoning.

        In reality, if Hunter was corrupt, and Biden had a prosecutor sacked to protect him, then Biden was corrupt, too. And we actually have a treaty with Ukraine on the topic of cooperation in investigating corruption.

        Does Trump benefit if a merely potential political adversary is proven corrupt? Sure. Is there something wrong with that if the potential adversary IS corrupt, and there was adequate reason for the investigation? Nope, perfectly legit.

        Being a potential political adversary doesn’t immunize you against corruption investigations.

        1. What are your sources? You keep saying things have been proven, but have no sources.

          Though it has come out there was absolutely a quid pro quo:

          All we need from the President [Zelensky] is to say, I’m gonna put an honest prosecutor in charge, he’s gonna investigate and dig up the evidence that presently exists and is there any other evidence about involvement of the 2016 election, and then the Biden thing has to be run out… Somebody in Ukraine’s gotta take that seriously

          “I think [an investigation] would make it possible… for me to talk to the President [Trump] to see what I can do about making sure that whatever misunderstandings are put aside,” Giuliani said. “I kinda think that this could be a good thing for having a much better relationship.”


  11. You mean the media did not accurate report the news for four years of Trump??????

  12. The Rev is clearly “hardest hit”

    I note he’s not here to whine

    1. Did he finally manage to get banned? Since muting him and Behar comments section got rather more readable.

  13. Being wrong is not the same as lying. The IG report shows the reporting was wrong. Neither the Politico story nor Greenawalt’s essay offers any reason to think the media reports were lies.

    1. So, what’s the difference, really, between lying and “too good to check”, when checking is literally part of your job description? How credulous and negligent do the media have to be, before it’s culpable?

      If somebody randomly calls a reporter, and anonymously reports that the President diddles little boys during staff meetings, should the reporter run with the story just because he doesn’t know for a fact it isn’t true? And then stick with the story over the on the record denial of everybody who was at the meeting?

      1. This is hilarious. Peaceful protesters cleared from a park with heavy-handed tactics, Trump strolls out there later for a photo-op, master media manipulatir Trump and his fans are utterly hornswoggled that the two get connected and outraged that this spectacular PR fail is seen as anybody’s fault but Trump’s. Sow confusion, undermine trust, act with cyncism, reap the whirlwind, then whine that it’s windy out.

        1. OK, forget whether the protesters were peaceful or just mostly peaceful. The tear gas was deployed by the Metropolitan Police Department, which isn’t in Trump’s chain of command, it follows the DC government’s orders.

          From the linked Politico story:

          “In a statement, the Metropolitan Police Department said individuals in the area threw multiple objects at police during the June 1, 2020, incident, including an incendiary device attack that seriously burned and scarred the limb of an MPD officer.

          “In response to these assaultive actions, MPD deployed crowd control tools that included tear gas in an effort to stop the riotous behavior and protect both officers and others in the area,” the department said in its statement.”

          So, all the stories that Trump had people tear gassed?


        2. If the protests were peaceful, how did that church burn?

          How did Secret Service agents get injured?

          1. If the protests were peaceful, how did that church burn?

            You forget that was a year of mostly peaceful fires.

    2. The media invented facts. They did not get it wrong. They got it exactly the way they wanted it. Pure propaganda.

  14. At best this is what happens when people look at the chaos and confusion and clowning of the actions of Trump and co and try to make some sort of sense of it. At worst this is using the difficulty of finding any sort of order in the chaos and confusion to have a big ol’ sulk about how the media is all unfair to poor ol’ master media manipulator Trump who somehow had the libs and the media pwnd but still couldn’t manage a simple photo shoot without coming across as a nasty swaggering oligarch virtue-signalling to his base.

    1. The media ran with a lie, for months, and you make it Trump’s fault?

      1. Yes, he is trying very hard to make excuses for believing the lying media.

      2. Media; ‘Yes, we are in fact utterly useless, lying, propaganda spewing garbage – but it’s Trump’s fault.”

        Wow, that Trump is certainly a powerful guy. In just four years time, he totally transformed the media from honest, ethical journalists into contemptable garbage.

  15. The new line, per most of the WAPO commenters on this story, is that the Interior I.G. is lying about this, although they can’t formulate a reason why.


    1. Jerry, so basically part of the media admits they can’t be trusted to tell the truth and other parts of the media claim that story is a lie?

  16. “The media” is impeached. Move along. Attend to Q

  17. They wonder why the public lost trust in all news media. Instead they choose a source that gives them what they want to hear. And that is supposed to be the public’s fault.

  18. The Trump administration used tear gas and violence to clear a public square. The president strode through the cleared space for a silly, disingenuous stunt.

    Prof. Volokh sees this as a cautionary tale about liberals.

    Still pondering what to make of the events of January 6, professor? Or the Trump administration’s pursuit of communications records of reporters it perceived as political adversaries? Clingers got your tongue?

    1. The DC government did that. After your team member hit a DC police officer with Molotov cocktail. DC police are not part of the Trump Administration.

      1. Ghost Shhhhh. The Rev does not deal well with facts. He much prefers his own version of delusional reality.

    2. The people in that public square were rioters, arsonists, and insurrectionists.

      Nerve gas should have been used.

  19. While I have not gone out searching for the liberal take on this, what little I have seen tells me Democrats will believe this about as much as Republicans believed the news that Trump lost the election.

  20. Look you have to accept the media/big tech are just bolsheviks. They lie and are leading the dehumanization of Americans of European background…

  21. I think a few Volokh posters owe Trump an apology. Somin is #1 on the list. It would do well for his credibility to admit he was wrong.

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