The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale has been tracking Donald Trump’s lies since Inauguration Day, and in the first week of October, the number of falsehoods reached the second-highest point of his presidency, with 129. But Dale’s cut-off date meant that he didn’t include the October 10 op-ed signed by Trump attacking Democratic proposals for Medicare for all, which USA Today, incredibly, agreed to run. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, who has also been tabulating Trump’s lies, concluded that “almost every sentence contained a misleading statement or a falsehood.” As if he were purposely trolling the fact-checkers, Trump actually linked to one of Kessler’s items that had previously debunked a false claim he was now making again.
At first, USA Today’s editors appeared pleased with themselves, defending the op-ed’s lies with the argument that they allow “authors wide leeway to express their opinions.” Two days later, however, they made a mockery of their own excuse by publishing Factcheck.org’s assessment, which systematically demolished every substantive claim that Trump made. These were not “opinions”; they were falsehoods. And as is the case so frequently with Trump, if he was not aware that he was lying, then he should be immediately removed from office for being bonkers.
Thing is, Trump may indeed be nuts; but his constant lying is perhaps the least nutty thing about him. His relentless dishonesty works. Yes, the Post and the Star track his “falsehoods.” (So far, Kessler has called only one of them a “lie.”) The New York Times uses the word “lie” every once in a while. And, of course, Twitter fulminates. But the mainstream media almost always pass along his lies without prejudice. The same day as the USA Today op-ed, NBC News ran a story with the headline “Trump accuses Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia as crowd chants ‘lock her up.’” Once again, everyone working at NBC News must have realized this accusation was a lie. But Trump clearly understands what he can get away with and—as ridiculous as this “I’m rubber, you’re glue” contention is—what works.
The publishing of obvious, destructive lies by Trump and his courtiers is standard operating procedure almost everywhere in the mainstream media. Here is a tweet that appeared the same day as the NBC News story from CNN’s Jake Tapper, who retweeted a clip of his colleague Christiane Amanpour and her interview with Hillary Clinton (“Exclusive: @HillaryClinton says “you cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about”) and highlighted the reaction from top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway: “@KellyannePolls responds on Fox: ‘I think her [Hillary Clinton’s] discourse now is dangerous. I don’t like the implications here…. I don’t like that kind of talk and i avoid it. My boss has called for civility. He says he represents all Americans.’”
Such nonsense is almost always followed up by the minions at Fox News, whose job description is apparently to try to flesh out Trump’s lies and come up with reasons that might make them true. After Trump said in Topeka, Kansas, that “in their quest for power, the radical Democrats have turned into an angry mob,” conservative commentator Tomi Lahren appeared on Fox & Friends to explain that “anyone who sits right of center, anyone who’s a Trump supporter, we’re all targets” of public harassment from the left. Sebastian Gorka, an apparent fascist sympathizer who was shown the door at the White House, added on the same segment that Democrats have “normalized violence in America.” Fox’s Tucker Carlson took this claim all the way into KKK territory when he warned his viewers during the Kavanaugh hearings that liberals were bent on “genocide” of white men. Remember, these people are speaking in the service of a president who called the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville “very fine people” and offered to pay the legal costs of supporters who beat up protesters at his rallies.
And again, the day after it allowed Trump to lie on its op-ed page, USA Today happily passed along another Trump whopper. This one ended up in the headline—“‘I’ve lost billions of dollars’ since becoming president, Trump says”—and was lifted from a Fox & Friends transcript, thereby completing the circle of lies that begins with Trump, continues through Fox News, and ends up in the mainstream media, with little or no pushback.
Meanwhile, Trump and company are so devoted to peace and civility that the president’s lawyer and frequent spokesman, Rudy Giuliani, is purposefully trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes—of the kind that have traditionally inspired murderous pogroms—in order to attack George Soros. I know this because the same day I saw the USA Today headline, I also saw this headline in Newsweek: “Rudy Giuliani Spreads Message That ‘Anti-Christ’ George Soros Is Behind Kavanaugh Protests.”
Here, again, Newsweek is helping Giuliani and the rest of the Trump team spread a Hitler-style “big lie” about a Holocaust survivor. True, except for Fox, these outlets can usually point to a place in their stories where they question some of the more outlandish claims by Trump or one of his lackeys. But thanks to social media and aggregating sites, most people encounter only the headlines. Cable-news chyrons likely work the same way, as who can stand to listen to all that prattle with the sound on?
Any representative or supporter of Trump who appears on television is almost certainly lying. After all, a president who can somehow rattle off 125 “false or misleading statements” in about 120 minutes (according to Kessler’s count of one of Trump’s particularly prodigious days in September) can only be defended with more lies.
Can democracy survive this? We shall see. Just don’t expect the men and women of the media to save us. Their job, as they define it, is to be lied to and then to repeat those lies in quotation marks.