It’s time to Break It Down!
It has been 873 days since Donald Trump assumed office. While conventional wisdom often suggests that time flies, for me at least, this factoid is impenetrably etched in another arc of the time and space continuum. It seems like it has been much longer. But that’s really beside the point. Please excuse my digression.
In the ensuing 125 weeks and five days, I have published 125 blog posts. Of those posts, in 10 of them, I have delved pointedly into the frequency, which third party evaluators have deemed Donald Trump to have uttered or written misleading, false, or downright patent untruths. Fact checkers at PolitiFact, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have recently indicated that Mr. Trump is closing in on 11,000 false or misleading statements, pegging the number at north of 10,800, and counting.
I have on a number of occasions pointed out in wonderment that the Fourth Estate has appeared to be reluctant to directly refer to these departures from truth as lies. I understand, somewhat, the deference, which at least in part accrues to the Office, not the man. Still it seems to me, there must be a point of no return, a breaking point, a point at which the masses and the media must simply face the absolute undeniable fact that, frequently, Trump makes statements that are not only not made jokingly, they are not alternative, nor any other kind of facts. They are, for lack of a more polite term, lies.
A week ago, a Paul Farhi article entitled, “Lies: The News Media is Starting to Describe Trump’s Falsehoods That Way,” appeared in the Washington Post. In the disquisition Farhi opined that it is all but official. The president of the United States, AKA Donald J. Trump, is a liar. For anyone who chafed at the erstwhile inexplicable reluctance, the Office notwithstanding, of media types to characterize the repeated, frequent, and by all discernible accounts, intentional statement and/or writing of the provably untrue as, well, lies, this has be akin to the point at which one stops “waiting” to exhale.
To underscore his point, Mr. Farhi provided several recent examples of various media entities finding their (for too long silent) voice:
–CNN: “The Mueller report: A catalog of 77 Trump team lies and falsehoods.”
–Minneapolis Star Tribune: “President Trump lies to troops about pay raise.”
–Financial Times: “The real reason Donald Trump lies.”
–Los Angeles Times: “Mueller report exposes all the president’s liars.”
–Chicago Tribune: “Why are Trump’s lies not ruinous to him? Because truth can be in the eye of the beholder.”
–The New Yorker: “It’s True: Trump Is Lying More, and He’s Doing It on Purpose.”
–Foreign Policy: “Does It Matter That Trump Is a Liar?”
It hasn’t been that long since questions about Trump’s assertions were tested in a realm where he was routinely given the benefit of the doubt. The prevailing logic went something like this: “Could a Presidential statement, no matter how blatantly false, be deemed a lie, since by definition, the word implies awareness of falsity and intent to deceive?” To wit, how can journalists know what’s in Trump’s mind, even when he repeatedly says transparently untrue things, such as, “the wall is under construction right now,” on the Southern Border with Mexico, or that the United States pays “a disproportionate share” of the cost of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)?
The dictionary definition of lie still renders some media organizations unwilling to apply it to Donald Trump. FactCheck.org hasn’t used the term in 10 years, according to its Director, Eugene Kiely. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column, despite having documented more than 10K false or misleading claims, has used the term just one time.
Glenn Kessler, the Post’s Fact Checker editor and chief writer notes that it’s impossible to get in Trump’s head, and the situational nature of his statement may mean he actually believes what he’s saying. That said, he concedes the sheer volume of Trump’s false and misleading statements may have caused some journalists to cease and desist with the benefit of the doubt trope.
For his part, Kessler used the apparently powerful three letter word last year to describe Trump’s denials about paying hush money to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election, given that an audio recording and other evidence clearly showed Trump spoke falsely.
The Post published the story under the headline, “Not just misleading. Not merely false. A lie.” The story appeared on Page 1 of the paper.
Last year, propelled by what may be considered Trump’s insouciant disregard for truth-telling, the Fact Checker created the Bottomless Pinocchio, a new category of falsehoods that have been repeated so often, “that there can be no question the politician is aware his or her facts are wrong.”
Among the first and most prominent entities to adopt the use of the L-word were the New York Times (NYT) and the Associated Press (AP). Both festooned Trump’s Birtherism claims with a Scarlett L. After his inauguration, the NYT also stamped Trump’s claim, that he would have won the popular vote had it not been for voter fraud, with an L. The headline: Trump Won’t Back Down from His Voting Fraud Lie. Here Are the Facts.”
Daniel Dale, who joined CNN last week on the fact checker beat, former Washington bureau chief for the Toronto Star, was one of the first mainstream journalists to systematically brand Trump’s comments as lies. He began compiling a database in 2015 and started counting the false statements the following year.
He deploys the word “lie” often and unabashedly refers to Trump as a “serial liar.” Speaking on the subject, Dale said:
“I think both are objectively true. It isn’t a departure from objective journalism to use these words. Why should objective journalism mean we have to dance around the obvious, objective truth? If we’re going to get readers to trust us, we have to be straight with them.”
Dale notes that he uses the term lie more frequently when Trump repeats a false claim multiple times. He elaborated:
“Perhaps the first couple [of instances] were confusion. But after dozens, and sometimes hundreds of instances, I think the active disregard for accuracy is sufficient grounds for calling the statement a lie.”
At the end of the day, Dale believes the terminology is less important than calling out the statements as wrong and inaccurate. “To not do so means news stories and segments are being completed without the public being informed the president made 10 or 15 or 35 false statements in one covered speech.”
Angie Drobnic Holan, the editor of PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize winning fact-checking organization, agrees. She added:
“It’s much more important to point out why Trump is wrong, and show the evidence.”
PolitiFact doesn’t use the word lie explicitly. However, its most extreme rating – “Pants on Fire” – certainly implies it. It also awards a “Lie of the Year Award. Not coincidentally, it has given the award to Trump three times in the past four years.
Holan and Dale view the issue differently. Holan is concerned that the public is being pummeled with headlines that suggest they are being lied to, which may breed cynicism. Dale counters her concern with the observation that “if someone committed 100 felonies, we don’t report that he committed 2 felonies and 98 nonlegal activities. We just say it was 100 felonies. Trump lies all the time. If we’re only going to point out some of them, he wins with the other ones.”
On balance, though I think Ms. Holan means well, I fully and resolutely believe Mr. Dale is absolutely correct, both in his actions, and in his underlying reasoning. “It Has Taken Far Too Long: Alas, The Media Is Coming Around!”
I‘m done; holla back!
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