"The first thing we do, let's kill all the referees."
Admittedly, that is not quite how the famous line from Shakespeare's "Henry VI" goes. As you may recall, it was actually the lawyers whose demise was proposed.
But though no one is known to have uttered the words above, they still neatly encompass the strategy conservatives have long used against the so-called "liberal media." Namely, undermine them — and thus, their ability to act as arbiters of truth — with relentless attacks on their credibility.
No less an authority than conservative pundit Charlie Sykes admitted as much in a 2016 interview with journalist Oliver Darcy.
"We've basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers," he said of himself and his conservative colleagues.
Sykes spoke during the 2016 campaign, when people were still stunned at the barrage of untruths spewing from the Republican candidate.
"We've created this monster," said Sykes, adding that, "At a certain point, you wake up and you realize you have destroyed the credibility of any credible (news) outlet out there. And I am feeling, to a certain extent, that we are reaping the whirlwind at that."
In related news, Donald Trump told the 10,000th lie of his presidency last Friday. This, according to The Washington Post, which maintains a database of all the times Trump has exaggerated, distorted or misled.
Feels like there ought to be a statue, or something. And what does Trump lie about? Pretty much everything.
He lies about the border wall, claiming it is now being built. It isn't.
He lies about his tax cut, claiming it was the biggest in history. It wasn't.
He lies about the Mueller report, claiming it exonerates him. It doesn't.
Indeed, the very same weekend he notched his dubious milestone, Trump told a particularly gruesome whopper about supposed legislation empowering a new mother and her doctor to "determine whether or not they will execute the baby."
And how did The New York Times respond to this flaming canard? It called it "inaccurate," which raised something of a stink on Twitter. That's not surprising. Calling that hogwash "inaccurate" is like saying the Titanic was "delayed."
The Times is not alone; most news organizations have resisted calling Trump's lies lies. Their reasoning, it must be conceded, is thoughtful. After all, to call something a lie is to impose judgment. Sometimes, when people are incorrect it's not a lie, only a mistake.
But 10,000 times in a little over two years? How gullible must you be to believe someone could be that wrong that often by accident? If any other man told you half that many untruths, you'd call him a liar. You wouldn't hesitate. Yet here, we do.
It sets an extraordinary precedent, yes, for a news organization to brand a president a liar. But these are extraordinary times and a liar, brazen and inveterate, is precisely what Trump is. In their refusal to call him that, in their insistence upon giving him the benefit of nonexistent doubt, news media compromise their prime directive, which is to present a picture of the world as it is.
That's something we can ill afford with the very idea of truth under attack and the need for news media to do their jobs arguably more critical than ever.
This is a time for forthrightness, yet too often journalists are anything but, from coverage of race, to climate change to this, as the newspaper of record dubs a grotesque lie merely "inaccurate."
It makes you wonder if all the effort conservatives put into neutering the referees was not a waste of time.
Seems the referees have done a fair job of neutering themselves.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.