The top of The New York Times' lead story on January 6—by Michael C. Bender, Lisa Lerner, and Michael Gold—started out looking like this:
Soon after I started Xing about it with all the ridicule I could muster, they re-cast it:
The second version was less ridiculous, but also less accurate, since the story was primarily about Biden's speech on the 5th from Blue Bell, PA, somewhere near Valley Forge, which was no longer indicated in the headline. But perhaps the initial headline was also a misrepresentation, as Biden said that democracy was at stake and that the very soul of America itself was at stake. But I don't think he said that reality, or for that matter even his very own butt itself, was at stake.
What he did say, according to the AP transcript, were things like this: "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Please, thank you. Please, thank you very, very much." "You know, it’s the very site that I think every American should visit." "It was almost in disbelief as you first turned on the television." "Because Donald." "Sometimes I’m really happy the Irish in me can’t be seen. It was right around the time was at Beau’s grave. Tommy." "He called and I quote, the terminate, quote, this is a quote, the termination of all the rules, regulations and articles, even those found in the U.S. Constitution should be terminated if it fits his will. It’s really kind of hard to believe."
Hard to follow, as well. And definitely not a quote.
And he said, "You can't be pro-insurrectionist and pro-American." Maybe Valley Forge wasn't the best place to say that, and I want to point out that by the time he helped foment and prosecute the American Revolution, George Washington was a Colonel in the British Army. That might make it a “coup,” or it might not. But the American Revolution was definitely an insurrection.
However, though Biden struggled with the Teleprompter, and though he definitely portrayed the 2024 election as a turning point, he didn’t, to repeat, say that "reality is at stake." Biden’s outraged and, evidently, bewildered by the Trump phenomenon. But he’s relatively composed for all that, or he’s composed in comparison to the headline writers at the Times, who are groping for the strongest and most hysterical hyperbolic formulation they can find. So they can use it in a headline of a “news” story.
Some think climate change is the end of the world, or will bring the end of life on earth "as we know it." But even graduates of “science communications” programs don't usually claim that climate change will end all reality. The Times news operation has gone straight from making Trump out to be a bad person, to making out to be him Thanos, Devourer of Universes: the #1 Marvel Villain of all time, according to this definitive listicle.
The description of Thanos strikingly recalls, let's say, Frank Bruni's descriptions of Trump, as well as Joe Biden's syntax. "The big bad. The biggest bad. In one *snap,* Thanos erased half of the known universe from existence. The build-up to Thanos pretty much defined the entire pace of the MCU's first truly sprawling story arc, from Iron Man to Endgame. Marvel spent 10 entire years teasing and setting up this massive villain before 2018's Avengers: Infinity War gave him an outwardly significant role to play. It was a hell of a trick, and it wouldn't have worked without the decade of buildup making it clear that a larger, more malevolent puppet-master was always pulling the strings just out of view. There are more exciting villains in the MCU, but Thanos is, as ever, inevitable."
That's just how Bender, Lerner and Gold think about Trump. He’s now, as ever, inevitable.
I'm not sure how you'd come to believe that wacky opinion writing at this level belongs in your news hole. But more deeply (so deeply!), I wonder why you want to make your opponent into a universe-devouring god-like super-being. It doesn't make any sense. The place that Trump occupies in your mind is... well, it's the whole damn thing, isn't it? I regard that headline Clashing over Jan. 6, Trump and Biden Show Reality is at Stake in 2024—as a complete capitulation or self-annihilation. Who could fight a being who puts all reality at stake? Where’s our Pepper Potts? I'm just not feeling Biden in that role. And of course, the mode of “journalism” that led to that headline is completely incompatible with the traditional picture of what a newspaper is for. “Brazenly,” eh?
Trying to defeat a brazen being who can devour reality seems futile. Even a reasonably good talker, much less JB, might have difficulties narrating the country out of that one.
But what really makes me upset is what it must be like to be the sort of person who wrote that headline. You really experience being disagreed with as a threat to "your reality," don't you? If 25 percent of the country thinks that the FBI fomented J6, you say straight out that reality is endangered. When it reaches 51 percent, you'll be obliged to say that it's collapsed. Presumably, you'll also now be obliged to say that it's true that the FBI fomented J6. You really need some philosophical therapy. Psychological help too.
No. Everyone could believe false things, and no doubt everyone does. That has no tendency whatever to make them true, and reality just keeps ticking right along no matter what anyone says. With regard to reality as a whole, it’s finally and fully appropriate to say that "it is what it is." Reality doesn't give a shit what Trump, or for that matter Bender, Lerner, and Gold, say. When you indicate that people disagreeing with you puts reality at stake, you’re not saying anything about reality. You’re simply expressing the fact that your own belief system, which you confuse with reality, is flimsy, wavering, collapsing. Now, is that really what you want to run on?
—Follow Crispin Sartwell on X: @CrispinSartwell