When rational thinking fails or is simply ignored, conflation often takes over. It is, by definition, the merging of two or more different sets of information or opinion into one.
President Trump is a master conflator. For instance, he cites horrible crimes committed by a relatively small number of undocumented immigrants and conflates their actions with the overall immigration problem facing the nation. In truth, immigrants commit far less crime proportionately than the total population of U.S. citizens.
Another example: Trump and his henchmen in Congress are determined to conflate the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email abuses with Robert Mueller’s probe of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Clinton’s case was clearly mishandled - so much so that both Democrats and Republicans have plenty to complain about.
But to conflate Clinton’s case with Mueller’s investigation is nonsense. Yet, it’s omnipresent in Trump’s tweets, among Congressional Republicans and on Fox News.
Sometimes well-intentioned people, with legitimate concerns, conflate things in a desperate attempt to prove or protest a larger point. This week, it’s happening in the wake of the slaughter-by-gun at a newspaper in Maryland.
Fact: the nation has a horrific gun problem that its lawmakers continue to ignore. Fact: the Trump Administration spares no effort to attack the news outlets, branding them as “fake news,” and perhaps sending a signal that violence against journalists is somehow acceptable.
But did these two awful truths come together in the attack at the Capital Gazette? There is no evidence that they did.
Jarrod Ramos, 38, lost a defamation case against the newspaper three years ago and was apparently seething about it ever since. His revenge Thursday left five people dead.
It is certainly possible that Ramos felt empowered by Trump’s relentless attacks on news media but there is nothing so far to suggest that. To call the crime in Maryland an assault on freedom of the press is misguided.
The New England Newspaper & Press Association is urging its members to sign a statement relating to the events in Maryland. It reads in part:
“The recent anti-media rhetoric creates an enabling environment for violence against journalists and that, in turn, creates a new challenge to the key tenets of objectivity, independence and fairness which underpin the profession.”
It’s a fine statement in a generic sense, but to tie it to the specific events in Maryland is not good journalism. The victims this time were journalists, but they might just as well have been real estate agents or bank tellers against whom a deranged individual acted because he had a grudge and a gun.
Journalists are, indeed, under verbal attack in America. Conflating their plight with gun violence in Maryland is not the best way to gain progress on either front.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.