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After a ridiculous days-long bad-faith debate on civility, can the press manage to learn self-respect?

Everyone knows Trump supporters don’t care about decorum.

President Trump Departs White House For South Carolina Win McNamee/Getty Images

In mid-August of 2012, Joe Biden’s advance team asked Chris McMurray, the owner of the Crumb and Get It Cookie Company in Virginia, if the vice president could do a stop at his shop. McMurray, as his right as a business owner, declined, citing political disagreements with the Obama-Biden administration.

The story made the local news, then via conservative blogs came to the attention of the influential Drudge Report, which put McMurray on the national political radar. The Republican National Committee thought it was a great story that underscored heroic resistance to the Obama presidency.

Paul Ryan, at the time the Republican Party’s vice presidential nominee, liked McMurray’s story so much that he asked McMurray to introduce him at an August 22 rally in Roanoke, Virginia.

“We are gathered here today to send a message to the Obama-Biden team that we did build it,” McMurray told the crowd, referencing an Obama statement that the GOP willfully misportrayed and then spent months messaging around as a gaffe.

“Nothing personal,” he said while elaborating on the story about his heroic refusal to host Joe Biden, “but I just happened to disagree with the president and the vice president on a few things.”

None of this was a major story at the time since, obviously, it’s not important. But it is useful context to recall during the national feeding frenzy that’s taken place over the past few days over the owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Virginia’s decision to decline to serve a meal to Sarah Sanders.

And, yes, even without the specific context of Ryan and his hero McMurray the cookie guy, it should be obvious that zero political supporters of Donald Trump — Donald Trump! — are sincerely motivated by concern about civility in politics. Most of these stories, meanwhile, somehow manage to neglect the fact that Trump supporters are actively terrorizing not just the Red Hen that snubbed Sanders but other restaurants that share the same name, too.

But there is nonetheless an important story here as both the mainstream media and a significant chunk of the Democratic Party were led around by the nose into a controversy that was motivated by a nearly perfect storm of bad faith. It happened over and over again during the 2016 presidential campaign, as Trump led us into bad-faith arguments over everything from Hillary Clinton’s health to her ties to Wall Street to her charitable foundation and beyond, even as everyone covering the campaign knew that Trump had done no medical disclosure, was running on bank deregulation, and had been caught red-handed running a fake charity.

The bottomless well of conservative bad faith

And since Election Day, the same nightmare has recurred over and over again.

We have debated, time and again, whether the FBI was biased against Trump in the election. We do this even though its agents lied to the New York Times to cover up the existence of an open counterintelligence probe of his shady ties to Russia, while the FBI director’s letter to Congress decisively tilted the election in Trump’s favor.

We’ve completed ignored Trump’s routine reliance on an insecure smartphone, even as conservatives pretended to believe compliance with government IT rules was the central issue of the 2016 election. Matt and Mercedes Schlapp become the toast of the American right by walking out of a Michelle Wolf comedy routine that they pretended to be offended by, scattering tweets feigning disdain toward media elite, all while en route to the MSNBC after-party.

We’ve entertained the obviously false proposition that that Trump lost the popular vote due to millions of fraudulent ballots, that telling ICE to stop focusing on deporting violent criminals and start deporting random workers is an effective way to combat MS-13, and that giant tax cuts will reduce the budget deficit.

At some point, you can’t really blame liars for lying.

Can the press learn self-respect?

But you can reasonably ask why so much of the press insists on pretending to believe conservatives when they pretend to care about something or other. I don’t think Ed O’Keefe or the other producers of the CBS Evening News are simpletons who sincerely believe Donald Trump’s political supporters are really outraged at the prospect of a breach of customary standards of conduct.

Nor do I think they’re daft individuals who sincerely believe that this is an important political story. But I couldn’t quite tell you what they do think is going on here.

The good news is that, for the short-term, at least, it doesn’t really matter. Donald Trump is not popular today and he was not popular on Election Day. His opponents’ proximate challenge in the midterms is to put forward candidates compelling enough that as large as possible a share of the 56 percent of the 2016 electorate who voted for non-Trump candidates show up and vote for a member of the opposition party. That’s not really something media coverage can have much care over.

But as someone who works in the field and consumes a ton of journalism, I do wish the press could muster a modicum of self-respect when it comes to conservative bad faith.

Just because a liar says something obviously false and gets it repeated on Fox News doesn’t mean you need to take it seriously.

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