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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Blame con artists, not their victims

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters after participating

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters after participating in a video teleconference call with members of the military on Thanksgiving, at the White House on Nov. 26, 2020. Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky

When newspapers run corrections, the niceties of the wording can be huge to the journalists involved.

The most common type of correction is the one that’s obviously the reporter’s mistake: "In Tuesday’s paper we called Jim J. Harrison a thrice-convicted pirate. In fact, Jim R. Harrison is a thrice-convicted pirate while Jim J. Harrison, no relation, is sinless and delightful. We regret the error."

But sometimes corrections include a career-saving phrase, "Due to faulty information provided by the police," or "owing to an error in the city’s budget documents."

It’s the reporter’s responsibility to be right. But if people in positions of authority dispense faulty information, that’s worth considering in judging the error.

And it’s a distinction that’s coming to mind more and more lately as I ponder the frustration so many of us feel against supporters of President Donald Trump, and wonder how to overcome the anger and reknit the nation.

Some who supported Trump saw him clearly and wanted the tax cuts or immigration changes he promised. But many who got behind him with money and votes have been victims of a sham. That doesn’t entirely excuse their error, because they have a responsibility to educate themselves and be discerning with votes and dollars, but it is an extenuating circumstance.

Trump’s supporters were lied to, and not just by some smelly guy passing out leaflets in a strip-mall parking lot and bellowing "The end is nigh!" The most gullible among them were deceived by authority figures they’d been taught to trust, working together in an organized conspiracy meant to confuse and disenfranchise them.

We were raised to believe that elected officials generally tell the truth in public statements. Sure, we knew they could be less than forthcoming about their sex lives or finances, but they generally went out of their way not to be caught in provable lies.

So when members of Congress like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Lee Zeldin cheerfully backed Trump’s evidence-free assault on our election system or supported his assertions that he has been effective in fighting the pandemic, some people believed them.

We were also raised to believe members of the media care both about adhering to factual accuracy on details and being broadly truthful in describing the world. So when a news organization like Fox and figures like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson tell us Trump is the heroic victim of a vast left-wing socialist conspiracy that no one else in the "deep state" media will report on, some will believe them.

But weren’t we also raised to believe that when people fall prey to an artful con, we blame the con artists and not the victims?

When someone in our lives is taken in by a scam that has them sending $2,500 to a stranger to bail a grandchild out of jail or allowing a stranger access to their computer to "fix a glitch," we get frustrated with our loved ones’ naiveté. But the bulk of our blame goes to the miscreants who sucked them in.

Many of the Americans fooled by Republican officials and conservative media into supporting Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections were victims of a scam. They should have seen through it, been quicker to reject hatred and support kindness, posed more questions when asked to believe the unbelievable.

But the main fault lies with the perpetrators of the con, Trump and his enablers, and not his supporters. If we can remember that, feeling a little kindness toward Americans taken in by the lies of their leaders might not be as hard as we fear.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.

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