With over 50 years’ experience, award-winning author and journalist Robert Scheer’s to-the-point style has been copied, but never replicated. He has interviewed U.S. presidents, had a regular column in the L.A. Times and is the former host of National Public Radio’s “Left, Right and Center.” His voice can now be heard on the podcast “Scheer Intelligence,” sponsored by KCRW; he is editor-in-chief of Truthdig, an online journal; and is a clinical professor of communications at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.
Scheer will tackle fake news, Russia and President Donald Trump at an event hosted by the Democratic Club of the Conejo Valley on Wednesday, July 12, in Westlake Village.
VCReporter: What is “fake news” to you and is it a new phenomenon?
Robert Scheer: I think people exploit it for their convenience mostly. I think we get a lot of fake news out of governments everywhere in the world. I think it’s a mistake to think this is a new issue or a uniquely Internet issue; I think there’s a lot of hysteria about it. Maybe that’s not what people want to hear, but my own view is that, yeah, it’s easier to make things appear legitimate on the Internet, but it’s also easier to track down information. . . . I’m not going to get up and rail against Trump as some unique evil. Presidents have lied to us continuously; governments lie, heads of corporations lie; our job as citizens and journalists is to have a discerning attitude.
Fake news has been around a long time, but it seems that with this new presidency, it’s being brought to the forefront and people are questioning it.
People are more alert because he’s such a boob about it. He certainly was good at the political debates, but as a president he’s not really slick. I thought he would be better at it, and the media is all over him. But you want to tell me he’s instituted a lie as big as the weapons of mass destruction that was supposed to be in Iraq as a justification of war that has caused so much damage and loss of lives? George W. Bush did it with a smile and sounded very reasonable. An intelligent person like Colin Powell, who I had great respect for — and in fact I was in his college class at City College, New York, — I always admired the guy, and he went along with it.
Since I’m speaking to a Democratic club, I don’t want to let them off the hook either. I’m not going to demonize Trump. Obviously the guy scares the hell out of me because he is poorly informed, he’s a novice, never been involved in any of these issues . . . but I’ve spent a lot of time at the L.A. Times interviewing other people who became president. Nixon, Reagan, the first president Bush, Jimmy Carter . . . quite often they were spinning a lie. Clinton, for example, was a very nice, wonderful guy. When he came into office he did the deregulation of Wall Street and that was a disaster. . . . I spent years looking at his financial deregulation and I thought, “You helped create the housing meltdown, that’s why we have Trump as president.”
The scariest thing about Trump is that he has that finger on the nuclear button, all the other stuff we have checks and balances for. . . . This guy, the unstable buffoon, is going to be on an airplane rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and one of his aids is going to say, “Here’s a suitcase and you’ve got 15 minutes to decide whether that’s a real attack coming from Russia or not.”
Do you think investigating the possible interference in the 2016 elections by the Russians is important, then?
I believe in being fact-driven and logic-driven, and so forth, but I think the demonization, the hysteria, is inappropriate. . . . We have been involved in messing around with people’s politics; we set the standard for the last 50 years. Now we come along and say, “Oh, these Russians are the main threat to democracy?” . . . To tell me the Russians are the big threat now to the Internet and Internet surveillance and what happened to the NSA, that we’re just these innocents sitting here? It’s silly talk. Does that mean you shouldn’t look into things? No.
What you’re saying is that everybody lies to us; this is the first president in which the veil is off and we can see it.
You got it. Do I think he’s particularly dangerous? He’s not a rigid ideologue, he’s not a religious fanatic, and I don’t think he thinks you’ll go to hell if you’re a homosexual.
But maybe Mike Pence does.
The guys who look like moderates to us now, the Texas senator, they were pretty scary, it seemed to me. Trump is a charlatan. Is he more unstable? I don’t know, I’m not a shrink . . . We know that Nixon was really out of it at the end; we know that Reagan was not always conscious of what was going on. That’s why I brought up the question of the nuclear button. Why did we ever allow one human being to make the critical decision about the survival of life on the planet? How did we ever get to the point where we gave that person that power?
Robert Scheer will speak to the Democratic Club of the Conejo Valley on Wedneday, July 12, 6:30 p.m., at North Ranch Center, 1400 N. Westlake Blvd., Westlake Village. For more information, visit www.conejodemocrats.weebly.com. For more information on Scheer, visit www.truthdig.com.