THE MORNING PLUM:
As the debate continues raging among journalists about how aggressively to call out Donald Trump’s lies, this morning brings a new episode that reminds us why it’s so important not to flinch from reckoning with the possibility that conventional journalistic techniques just aren’t going to cut it during the Trump era.
At the Golden Globes ceremony Sunday night, actress Meryl Streep tore into Trump, depicting him as a bully who takes borderline sociopathic pleasure in abusing and belittling others. As Exhibit A, Streep cited Trump’s now-infamous mockery of a disabled reporter, Serge F. Kovaleski, and made the case that this sort of public performance sets a tone by example:
This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence.
On Monday morning, Trump responded with a series of tweets:
Here Trump is telling two lies about a third lie. A quick review: Trump’s mockery of a disabled reporter came after he claimed “thousands and thousands” of Muslims living in America celebrated 9/11. Kovaleski had written an article just after 9/11 that claimed law enforcement “detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks.” Under fire for his falsehood about celebratory Muslims, Trump cited that article to push back, even though an “alleged” “number” is hardly proof of “thousands.” In response to that, the reporter put out a statement saying he did not witness Trump’s version of events. But Trump cited that statement as proof that the reporter had dishonestly backtracked on a story that backed Trump’s position (a lie Trump repeated in Monday’s tweets). That’s how Trump’s mockery of the reporter arose: He waved his arms and mock-quoted the reporter saying “I don’t know what I said!” (See Glenn Kessler’s extensive anatomy of the full story.)
To recap: Lie No. 1 is that thousands of U.S.-based Muslims celebrated 9/11. Lie No. 2 is that the disabled reporter’s original story backed Trump and that the reporter backtracked on it. Lie No. 3 is that Trump didn’t mock that disabled reporter (in fact, he flapped his hands around frantically after saying, “you gotta see this guy!”).
The claim about celebrating Muslims was one of Trump’s biggest lies — one that was central to his key campaign narrative about the Muslim Enemy Within. And so, Streep wasn’t merely calling out Trump’s bullying and abusiveness. She was also calling out his uniquely uncontrollable lying, and the extent to which Trump will go to attack reporters in service of it. Indeed, in the rest of her remarks, Streep segued immediately to a shout-out to “the principled press” that will be necessary to hold Trump accountable and “safeguard the truth.”
It’s often argued that we should perhaps give less attention to Trump’s tweets. But Monday’s barrage gets at something important. Yes, all politicians lie. But with only days to go until Trump assumes vast power, Monday’s tweetstorm is a reminder that we may be witnessing something new and different in the nature and degree of the dishonesty at issue. Here again we’re seeing Trump’s willingness to keep piling the lies on top of one another long after the original foundational lies have been widely debunked, and to keep on attacking the press for not playing along with his version of reality, as if the very possibility of shared reality can be stamped out by Trumpian edict, or Trumpian Tweedict.
Some journalists are arguing that we need to take care in labeling Trump’s falsehoods as “lies,” because that imputes motive and intent. If some feel more comfortable labeling them “false,” that will probably suffice most of the time, with the crucial caveat that it must be done squarely and prominently. But the broader point here is that, in the debate over how to handle Trump’s profound and unprecedented dishonesty, let’s not underplay the possibility that the usual conventions of political journalism may prove woefully insufficient to conveying to readers and viewers what Trump is really up to here.
* HOSPITALS WARN OF DOOMSDAY OBAMACARE REPEAL SCENARIO: Politico reports that hospitals are sounding the alarm big time about what will happen if Republicans repeal the ACA with no agreed-upon replacement:
Their doomsday scenario: Millions of people could lose their health care coverage, hospitals could hemorrhage cash and shocks to the $3 trillion-a-year health system could send ripples through the entire economy….Hospitals estimate that repealing Obamacare could cost them $165 billion by the middle of the next decade and trigger “an unprecedented public health crisis” if sick people are unable to get care.
No problem — Republicans will simply say that Obamacare was already collapsing, and the chaos unleashed by their repeal plan is merely a continuation of that.
* TRUMP CAMP BLAMES DEMS FOR RUSSIA HACKING: Incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, on “Face the Nation”:
“The fact that this particular hack was perpetrated by Russian entities is something that no one is disputing. But … one of the issues that isn’t really being covered is that we have one of the two biggest political parties in the world, the D.N.C., that sat there like a sitting duck, allowed these entities into their computer systems.”
Translation: This assault on our democracy isn’t that big a deal, since Democrats were basically asking for it.
* TRUMP UNLIKELY TO STEP AWAY FROM HIS BUSINESSES: With Trump set to hold a presser this week to announce his plans for his businesses, the Associated Press explains that he is unlikely to do much in practice:
Trump has canceled a handful of international deals and dissolved a few shell companies created for prospective investments. Still, he continues to own or control some 500 companies that make up the Trump Organization, creating a tangle of potential conflicts of interest without precedent in modern U.S. history.
And congressional Republicans are not doing anything to compel more transparency about those holdings, making it impossible to know if conflicts are taking place in given situations.
* TRUMP’S ‘SHADOW CABINET’ COULD CREATE MORE CONFLICTS: The Post reports that Trump is creating “advisory” positions (including for his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner) whose occupants may benefit from Trump policy decisions:
The concerns have been amplified by the fact that they will be reporting to a Republican president who has been slow to address the potential conflicts stemming from his own … business interests. Some of the advisory roles Trump has set up or is openly contemplating fall into “very murky territory,” said Norman Eisen, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer under President Obama.
And the drainage of the swamp continues apace.
* OBAMACARE REPEAL WOULD HIT RED STATES HARD: E.J. Dionne tells Republican senators about a recent Urban Institute study that calculated how the GOP plan to repeal (and “replace”) Obamacare would impact particular red states:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is threatening to hike the uninsured figure in Kentucky by 200 percent, or 486,000 people. In Arizona, Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, the number without coverage would rise by 709,000. In West Virginia, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the ranks of the uninsured would go up by 208 percent, more than twice the national average, from 88,000 if the ACA were left in place to 272,000. These are real Americans, and they all live in states carried by Trump.
Yes, but even the real Americans who would be hurt by Obamacare repeal don’t exist, because it can never be acknowledged that the law benefited people.
* AND McCONNELL VOWS ‘QUICK’ ACA REPLACEMENT: This exchange between the senate majority leader and journalist John Dickerson is less than reassuring:
McCONNELL: We will be replacing it rapidly after repealing it.
DICKERSON: So can you give me a sense of what rapidly means? Are we talking–
McCONNELL: Very quickly.
DICKERSON: Months? Days?
Got that? With GOP senators growing increasingly antsy about voting on repeal with no replacement, the big question is whether three will say “No” — enough to kill it.