At the three-and-a-half-year mark of his presidency, we have ample proof that Trump’s barking about the criminality of others—almost always his opponents—is routinely groundless. As many have written, he is a terrible source of investigative leads and he routinely spins nonsense to reset the conversation in hopes that it will deflect the press from his political problems. And he’s doing it again. As a serial and unreliable accuser, Trump is like that cocoa puff who loves to phone reporters with evidence of massive wrong-doing but when interviewed only has a shopping bag full of unrelated, yellowing news clips. The biggest difference between the cocoa puffs and the orange one, of course, is that the cocoa puffs only want to be heard while the orange one hopes his hogwash will get enough play to influence voters in November.
This is where it gets tricky for reporters. But it’s time to establish a new standard for our coverage of the president.
Journalists should still write down what he says, just as we should always listen to the cocoa puffs when they call. But the urgency of our investigations should be informed by what sort of substantiation Trump and his surrogates provide. Does the press have an obligation to debunk every allegation he makes, even the vague and tissue-thin charges he makes on a regular basis? Who made him our assignment editor? Trump has cried wolf so many times—deliberately wasting journalistic resources by sending reporters off to investigate spurious charges—that it’s now incumbent upon him to invest his charges with some tangible proof if he expects reporters to follow his lead.