The tireless mendacity of President Trump has roared back into the top of the news. “How to know when Trump is lying,” notes the headline on a CNN piece. Slate: “Trump’s Saturday of Lies: President Says Official Who Briefed Reporters ‘Doesn’t Exist.’ ” The New York Times has an article on how Trump’s repeated allegations about an FBI informant who cultivated sources on his 2016 presidential campaign squares with his history: “With ‘Spygate,’ Trump Shows How He Uses Conspiracy Theories to Erode Trust.”
Bring up Trump’s frequent lies, and White House officials will seek to change the topic. They’ll talk about the robust economy; they’ll talk about the move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; they’ll talk about the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord; they’ll talk about the blameworthiness of Trump’s Democratic critics. All of the programs of the Trump administration, however, are built to some degree of deception; lying, after all, was the central plank of Trump’s presidential election campaign.
In their look at Trump’s hyping of “Spygate,” Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times summed up the latest in presidential misinformation:
Last week, President Trump promoted new, unconfirmed accusations to suit his political narrative: that a “criminal deep state” element within Mr. Obama’s government planted a spy deep inside his presidential campaign to help his rival, Hillary Clinton, win — a scheme he branded “Spygate.” It was the latest indication that a president who has for decades trafficked in conspiracy theories has brought them from the fringes of public discourse to the Oval Office.
Citing two former Trump officials, the New York Times reports that Trump resisted deploying the term “deep state” in his rhetoric, “partly because he believed it made him look too much like a crank.” So the guy who gripes incessantly and with no evidence about the “fake news” media is worried about appearing like a crank.
Notes the New York Times: “Students of Mr. Trump’s life and communication style argue that the idea of conspiracies is a vital part of his strategy to avoid accountability and punch back at detractors, real or perceived, including the news media.”
True, no doubt. Yet the most clarifying point on this matter comes from Billy Bush, who is, if nothing else, a student of Mr. Trump’s life and communication style. Bush was the fellow chatting with Trump on the infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which the mogul bragged about grabbing women by their genitals. Bush was fired from the “Today” show over the incident. It just so happened, however, that Bush had spent a lot of time with Trump back in his years as an entertainment correspondent, and he discussed his experiences on an episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher” in March. Maher noted that Trump had exaggerated the ratings of his program “The Apprentice,” prompting Bush:
Well, he’s been saying No. 1 forever, right. Finally I’d had enough. I said, “Wait, Donald. Hold it. Wait a minute. You haven’t been No. 1 for five years, four years — whatever it is. Not in any category, not in any demo.” He goes, “Well, did you see last Thursday? Last Thursday, 18-49 … last five minutes.” I said, “No. I don’t know that stat.” So he was like, “I told you.” And then later, when the cameras were off … he says, “Billy, look, look, you just tell them and they believe it. That’s it, you just tell them and they believe it. They just do.” And I said, “Ah, okay.”
That’s called telling the truth about lies.
Being a blabbermouth, Trump apparently cannot stop himself from confiding about his malicious tactics — to media types, of all people. Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” recently revealed that Trump had told her about the thinking behind his media-bashing ways. “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe it,” Trump told Stahl shortly after his election, as she recalls it.
On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted:
News outlets scrambled to characterize the allegation. CNN: “Trump says, without proof, that Mueller team will meddle in midterm elections.” Associated Press via New York Times: “Trump: Mueller’s Team Is ‘Meddling’ in Midterm Elections.” Politico: “Trump says Mueller probe will meddle in midterms.”
“Without proof,” huh? CNN cannot call this particular tweet a lie because it doesn’t know 100 percent for certain that Mueller won’t meddle; and it doesn’t know 100 percent for certain that Trump doesn’t believe this allegation. Which is to say, the media has standards in covering a president who doesn’t. It has been a mismatch from Day 1.
Read more from Erik Wemple: