It’s one of the oldest gambits used by politicians of all stripes, in the Athenian agora and the Roman Senate, and probably long before then: If you can’t attack the message, attack the messenger.
In recent weeks, current political leaders have given us several prime examples of this strategy.
First, there’s Gov. Jim Justice. Most West Virginians have probably suspected that the state’s wealthiest man is somehow profiting personally from his time as governor, but a months-long investigating by the Gazette-Mail‘s Ken Ward Jr., partnering with ProPublica, began to describe exactly how that’s happening.
The famed Greenbrier resort, owned by Justice, was paid more than $1 million to host the governor’s inaugural bash in 2017. Despite Justice’s order for state agencies not to spend money with the resort, more than $100,000 has been spent there since.
And the governor’s response to these facts? He doesn’t challenge them, because he can’t.
Instead, he says, “I think the Charleston Gazette has become the Charleston Enquirer. That’s the best I can tell you. ... They’re a waste of time. They make no news. All they do is throw garbage.”
But that’s not the best Justice could tell the people of West Virginia. He could tell them why, after promising to put the resort in a blind trust, he didn’t. He could respond to the proposal by state Sen. William Ihlenfeld, a former U.S. Attorney, to require governors to put their assets in such a blind trust. He could respond to revelations that the state’s most powerful lobbying groups are increasingly paying for state agency leaders and state lawmakers to attend events at The Greenbrier.
After Ward’s story, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said lawmakers had a “growing sense of concern about those occurrences and circumstances surrounding the governor’s business affairs.”
Of course, Justice pales in comparison to the nation’s chief media-blamer. That would be President Donald Trump, whose actions over the past few days should be embarrassing and extremely concerning to all Americans.
As Hurricane Dorian battered the Carolinian coast on Thursday, the president of the United States continued to defend his incorrect tweet on Sunday that Alabama faced major consequences from the storm.
The tweet was wrong, as the National Weather Service in Alabama pointed out 20 minutes later. It was a simple mistake, and if Trump had acknowledged that in short order and provided the correct information, there would be no story. Everyone makes mistakes.
But because Trump appears to be literally incapable of admitting a simple mistake, he has spent the past week attempting to defend his erroneous statement, doctoring maps with a Sharpie marker and sending out high-ranking American officials to clumsily defend him in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
And all the while, Trump complains about the “fake news” coverage of his statement. When he, or any politician, does nothing but blame the messenger, the American people should pay extra attention to the message.