President Trump berated the media repeatedly at his press conference on Feb. 16, calling CNN, the New York Times and other outlets "dishonest" and "very fake news," for reporting unfavorable stories about him. (Video: Reuters / Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

On his ratings-killing show, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly on Tuesday night couldn’t quite bring himself to acknowledge that his friend President Trump is a liar or a serial teller of falsehoods or a prevaricator. No, the King of Cable News chose his words more carefully, more softly.

“Mr. Trump often veers away from hard facts,” said O’Reilly, a longtime friend of Trump’s who has enjoyed numerous vanilla milkshakes with him.

For a guy who has consistently enabled Trump, that’s at least a slight acknowledgment of the president’s runaway mendacity. Progress, in other words. Now for the implications: What harm could come from Trump’s tendency to veer away from “hard facts”? Could that tendency lead to a poorly informed populace? Could it stoke irrational fears about terrorism? Could it unjustifiably diminish the standing of the media in American democracy? Could it lower the reputation of what Trump called the “very famous White House“?

Nah, none of that. The upshot of Trump’s episodic relationship with facts, averred O’Reilly, had the impact of allowing “the people who despise him to attack, sometimes effectively.”

We’ve heard this all too many times from O’Reilly. Trump’s divisiveness and lies, in the view of his vanilla-milkshake-sharing buddy, are less substantive weaknesses and problems for the republic than they are mere openings for those who are already predisposed toward hating the president. It’s a theme of O’Reilly’s coverage — only he can turn Trump into a victim. “The sad fact is that no matter what Donald Trump says tomorrow in his address,” said O’Reilly before the inauguration, “it will not be accepted by those who despise him.”

In concluding his monologue Tuesday, O’Reilly said that the Trump White House has a chance to “win the culture war.” To make that happen, however, “Discipline and facts must dominate the presidential discourse,” argued O’Reilly. Considering that O’Reilly is well-known as a plain-spoken broadcaster who doesn’t mince words, what was stopping him from saying simply, “Donald Trump needs to stop lying”? Oh, yeah, probably those vanilla milkshakes.