[I’ll refer to: ”President Trump” as opposed to just “Trump.” I couldn’t stand it when opinion writers refused to call President Obama “President.” I’ll try not to do the same thing to President Trump. He may not have been elected fair and square but he was elected legally. At least until a court says otherwise.]
President Trump’s Lies Begin at the Beginning
The media was concerned about how to report Candidate Trump’s provable lies. Now that he is in office, the media is in a tizzy. Immediately after the inauguration, Team Trump started a fight with the media about the size of attendance at the inaugural. The press immediately disproved President Trump’s statements. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/21/us/politics/trump-white-house-briefing-inauguration-crowd-size.html. In response, Counselor-Without-Apparent-Portfolio-Kelleyanne Conway said President Trump is entitled to “alternate facts.” <aref=”https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/01/22/kellyanne-conway-says-donald-trumps-team-has-alternate-facts-which-pretty-much-says-it-all/?utm_term=.3229bf88caed”>https://.
Alternate facts? Like, in an alternate universe? Are we living in a comic book world.
And press secretary Sean Spicer claims the Trump Administration is entitled to dispute the facts. http://www.newsmax.com/Headline/US-Trump-The-Latest-Sean-Spicer/2017/01/23/id/769998. You can dispute points of view or theories or arguments. But dispute actual “facts?” Facts are facts because they are undisputable. At the beginning of the Trump administration, it seems facts don’t matter anymore. But facts must matter. A free press should always think facts do matter.
What is a “Lie” Versus a “Misrepresentation” versus a “Falsehood?”
In the Nixon days, when the administration was caught in a lie, the administration would say the statement was “no longer operative.” Not, for heaven’s sake, a “lie.” In the immortal words of Ben Bradlee in All The President’s Men (both the book and the movie), a “nondenial denial.” http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/16/weekinreview/the-nation-the-nondenial-denier.html Most of the media is afraid to call a Trump administration lie a “lie.” (Notable exception: Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC. Who, coincidentally, as head of the Democratic National Committee during Watergate, happens to know a lot about Nixonian lies.) Some journalists now consider themselves brave in using the terms “false” or “falsehood.” Journalists were actually debating whether to call some lies “falsehoods” as opposed to “lies.” What is a “falsehood” except a nicer and gentler way of saying “lie.” And if it is a lie, why should journalists be looking for a way to soften it. Isn’t this simply bowing to the new power structure? The New York Times seems to be attempting to avoid the lie-versus-other-name-issue by using footnotes to point out the falsity of Team Trump’s statements.
Should Journalists Fight Every Lie?
For the journalists speaking or interviewed on the SIRIUS radio channel POTUS (“Politics of the United States”) today, the issue seems to be: do you fight over every single lie or intentional misrepresentation, even if the subject is of minor importance or do you “pick your battles” and only make a fuss over the “big” lies? Most of the journalists I heard agreed the danger in reporting every little lie to be, in fact, a lie is that the public will soon tire of the fighting and, later, won’t be responsive when the press reveal a very big lie.
The first question, of course, is: who decides what is a small lie versus a big lie? Is the President’s insistence that he had “the greatest” inaugural attendance a triviality? Or is it reflective of his insecurity and his need to stand unchallenged on anything he wants to say? If so, isn’t that important? Isn’t that an indication of demagoguery? Are there indeed a million little lies? But let’s assume that question away, keeping it for another day. Today, let’s assume we would all agree on what constitutes a big versus a little lie.
No–The Press Shouldn’t Ignore The “Little” Lies
The majority journalistic opinion seems to be that it just isn’t worth it to make an issue of “every little lie.” I must disagree. Yes, the public may get tired of hearing about “little” lies—perhaps they will occur from Team Trump on a daily basis and the team will say (as they do now) the media is biased against them. Perhaps we’ll accumulate a million little lies in an incredibly short period of time.
In the campaign, the Trump spokespeople repeatedly said that little lies don’t matter. Reminiscent of the Clinton staffers, the Trump people will say—are saying already—we need to “move on.” (Look at Conway saying the people “have already litigated” the issue of whether President Trump should disclose his taxes.
What? we have litigated no such thing. A blatant and by no means “little” lie. But Ms. Conway would have us just move on from the issue of whether President Trump has had numerous serious conflicts of interest from the instant he took office.
Yes, there is a danger of public apathy or burnout. It’s a danger we must accept. Yes, people may get tired of hearing that President Trump lied about this or lied about that. But that’s the job of a strong and free press—to hold the government accountable.