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Media Memory-Holing Might Benefit Will Smith

Real Clear Politics logo Real Clear Politics 4/5/2022 J. Peder Zane
© Provided by Real Clear Politics

Following his Oscars night slap seen round the world, actor Will Smith should take heart that life really can imitate art. After smacking Chris Rock because the comedian joked about his wife during the Academy Awards ceremony, Smith may feel like his life has become his earlier biopic, "Ali." But contemporary American politics holds out the promise that it might soon resemble another one of his star vehicles, "Men in Black."

Those action films featured a high-tech stick called the "neuralyzer" which wipes away inconvenient memories. You can't buy one on Amazon, but never mind - our leaders in Washington and the media are already achieving its memory-holing effects through other means.

It starts at the top with Joe Biden, who made a trifecta of dangerous gaffes regarding the war in Ukraine: In the span of a few days the president promised to respond to any use of chemical weapons "in kind," suggested we might send the 82nd airborne into the fray, and made an unambiguous call for regime change in Russia by declaring, "For God's sake, this man [Vladimir Putin] cannot remain in power!"

When Biden was asked about this trio of incendiary vows, he broke out his rhetorical neuralyzer to claim, "None of the three occurred."

The partisan liberal media hasn't held the president to account for this erasure because much of their news coverage also seeks to rewrite the past. To cast the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol as a singular event in American history, for example, they ignore their cheerleading of the George Floyd-inspired riots that preceded it and which normalized violence as a form of acceptable protest. To portray Donald Trump's claim that the 2020 election was rigged, they wipe away the inconvenient truth of Democrat claims that every GOP presidential victory this millennium was stolen.

They have also sought to delete from memory their four-year war on the office of the presidency through the publication of thousands of articles advancing the Trump/Russia conspiracy theory. The debunking of that sulfurous narrative has not prompted any ink-stained soul-searching. Instead of trying to determine how they got the biggest story in a generation completely wrong and hold its perpetrators - including Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and Biden - to account, the New York Times, Washington Post, and others are just wishing it away. Their effort to expunge this history may explain why they won't even correct clear factual errors in their reporting. Their attitude seems to be, Why address something that never happened?

The neuralyzer is just one of the Hollywood tricks used by the media. Inspired by the 1944 picture "Gaslight," they try to convince us that we can't trust our own minds or memories. The Washington Post's editorial board could have just argued that the Republicans' recent questioning of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson was unfair - that their efforts to paint her as soft on crime because of sentences she handed down in child pornography cases and her representation of terrorists were misleading.

Instead they cast questions about her judicial record as smears and made the preposterous assertion that she had been treated worse than Brett Kavanaugh. In their telling, the Trump nominee's 2018 hearing, which did not hinge on his judicial philosophy but on dubious claims that he was an alcoholic in high school and college and who had sexually assaulted one woman and may have gang raped others, was a high-minded pursuit of the truth.

When reality is too strong even for the neuralyzer and gaslighting, the mainstream media have more Hollywood tricks up their sleeve. Like Captain Renault in "Casablanca," who says he is "shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on" in Rick's café, even as he pockets his winnings, they are pretending to be surprised that Hunter Biden's business dealings are problematic.

Forced to acknowledge this long-obvious truth by an ongoing Justice Department probe of the first son, the Times, Post, and other news outlets are suddenly committing some real journalism on this front - though I doubt that they will pursue leads that could implicate the president. That said, their current coverage is still trying to erase past misconduct by ignoring the false claims they trumpeted that Hunter's laptop, which was filled with damaging information suggesting corrupt business practices, was "Russian disinformation."

Now that they have confirmed the authenticity of the laptop, first reported by the New York Post in October 2020, they are also trying to gaslight the public by claiming they ignored its explosive material when it might have swayed the presidential election because journalistic ethics prevented them from reporting material they could not verify independently. This excuse not only ignores the corroborating evidence supplied by former Biden associate Tony Bobulinski but also the fact that news outlets constantly report material verified by their competitors. When the New York Times used stolen material to report on Trump's tax returns in September 2020, CNN, NPR, and scores of other news outlets repeated every detail.

All of which is to say that Will Smith can take heart. He may not need Chris Rock or the public to forgive him for his Oscar meltdown, because there's a good chance he can just get them to forget.

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