Lies are coming at the American public in torrents — raining down on them everywhere they turn.
A report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee, and obtained by The Washington Post, made that breathtakingly clear over the weekend. The intentional spreading of disinformation on every platform — from Facebook all the way to PayPal — should frighten everyone who cares about democracy.
One place that truth can prevail is in the reality-based news media, where editorial judgment comes into play.
That means it’s more important than ever not to give falsehoods a megaphone there.
Which brings us to Chris Cuomo’s 39-minute interview Thursday with Kellyanne Conway, President Trump’s top dissembler.
It should have been no surprise that Conway — who coined the immortal phrase “alternative facts” in early 2017 — blithely spun her way through the interview.
In her usual never-been-wrong tone, she waved away the undeniable facts about the pre-election hush-money payments made to two women, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, who had been sexually involved with Trump.
“Christopher, in April of 2018, Donald J. Trump, the president, and everybody else were told about the payments,” she said.
This, of course, is straight-up false — and Conway knows it, which makes it a lie. After all, in an audio recording from August 2016 (made public this summer), Trump and his then-fixer/lawyer Michael Cohen are discussing one of the payments.
A New York Times fact-check branded Conway’s statement false: Her assertion “that the president did not know about these payments until this year is not credible, given the audio recording, news reports and statements from Mr. Trump’s current lawyer.”
Even George Conway, Conway’s husband (and frequent political opposite), seemed to fact-check his wife. He tweeted: “Given that Trump has repeatedly lied about the Daniels and McDougal payments — and given that he lies about virtually everything else, to the point that his own former personal lawyer described him as a ‘f****ing liar’ — why should we take his word over that of federal prosecutors?”
Cuomo’s CNN colleagues smacked him around, with Don Lemon leading the way, and with Brian Stelter devoting time to the Cuomo-Conway shoutfest on his “Reliable Sources” show Sunday.
Perhaps most absurd among Conway’s declarations was her objection to Cuomo’s referring to Trump as a liar, although she wouldn’t repeat the term. “You’re saying he’s not telling the truth. That’s a slur. That’s a slur.”
It may not be pretty to hear, but it’s undeniable: Trump very, very often doesn’t tell the truth. (The falsehood count is over 6,000, says The Post’s Fact Checker.)
No, it’s not a slur to state the facts. But it is a shame to give liars a megaphone.
So it’s time (actually, well past time) for the mainstream media to enter the No Kellyanne Zone. And that goes far beyond banning her, or any particular adviser, from cable interview shows.
The news media continues — even now when it should know better — to be addicted to “both sides” journalism. In the name of fairness, objectivity and respect for the office of the presidency, it still seems to take Trump — along with his array of deceptive surrogates — at his word, while knowing full well that his word isn’t good.
When major news organizations publish tweets and news alerts that repeat falsehoods merely because the president uttered them, it’s the same kind of journalistic malpractice as offering a prime interview spot to Kellyanne Conway.
This is how NBC News spread the news of Trump’s reaction to recent legal developments that were extraordinarily negative — maybe devastating — to him:
NEW: “Totally clears the President. Thank you!” President Trump asserts in a tweet after new Cohen and Manafort case filings.
Reuters and the Associated Press did much the same: “BREAKING,” said the AP’s tweet: “White House says Cohen, Manafort filings offer nothing new or damaging about Trump.” (The AP later deleted its tweet and explained that it lacked context.)
Citizens, meanwhile, seem to be catching on. A new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll shows that 62 percent of Americans think Trump has been untruthful about the investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Given all of this, the responsibility to bear down on reality is greater than ever.
When news organizations hand a megaphone to lies — or liars — they do actual harm. What the president himself says must be reported, of course, but only within the context of what we know.
To state it without immediate, adjacent reference to factual reality is to enter the Kellyanne Zone.
In an era rife with disinformation — and American democracy teetering on a precipice — that’s the wrong place to be.
For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan