Few quotes encapsulate the administration of President Trump as neatly as one he offered during a speech to veterans Tuesday in Missouri.
“Just remember,” he said, “what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
What Trump is doing is asking listeners to join him in his carefully crafted bubble, a space where information that conflicts with what Trump asserts or with what Trump believes is untrustworthy, intentionally false or simply doesn’t exist. It’s as clear an articulation of Trump’s approach to his role as chief executive as we’ll find, and one for which evidence abounds of Trump’s deployment of it as a tool.
For example, a few hours after Trump’s speech, the New York Times reported on an email it had acquired. Before departing on a recent overseas trip, Trump “raged at his staff for violating a rule that the White House entourage should begin each trip tuned to Fox — his preferred network over what he considers the ‘fake news’ CNN — and caused ‘a bit of a stir’ aboard Air Force One.”
It’s not new that Trump prefers the friendly broadcasts of Fox News to those of other networks. He is publicly overt about both watching and boosting the network. On Monday morning, he tweeted a suggestion for people to tune in to his favorite show, “Fox and Friends,” so that they might hear a denunciation of the FBI’s investigation into his campaign from a conservative activist. He’s retweeted the show’s coverage 53 times as president, trailing only White House social media director Dan Scavino and Trump himself. The three most reliable voices in support of Trump’s presidency.
But beyond Trump’s sorting of the media into two buckets — “good” and “fake news/enemy of the people” — his efforts to obscure the truth from the public and himself are rampant.
There’s his administration’s efforts to bury information that counters its rhetoric.
Last year, the White House requested a report looking at the long-term costs of allowing refugees into the country. The Department of Health and Human Services looked at the question and found that refugees were a net contribution to the country, not a drain on its resources. The Times obtained that report, but it was never released. Trump adviser Stephen Miller, his most fervent voice on immigration issues, reportedly intervened in opposition to the report’s findings.
A government report completed in 2012 published to the Treasury Department website was removed after Secretary Steven Mnuchin made public arguments that disagreed with the report’s findings. Mnuchin also promised a white paper showing that the administration’s tax cuts would pay for themselves, a contention that differed with what most economists (and nonpartisan government analysts) predicted. The paper that was released did no such thing.
“I don’t believe in magic,” a former director of one of those nonpartisan agencies told the Times. “It’s just a political statement.”
Trump himself winnows the information that he receives from his team. He often skips intelligence briefings, relying instead on oral reports. It was reported last summer that he did allow for one form of briefing on a regular basis: a daily folder containing positive news clips.
Then there are the lies and inaccuracies. The Post’s fact-checkers tallied 3,251 untrue claims through May 31 of this year, a rate of 6.5 untrue statements every day of his presidency. On 85 percent of the days he had been president to that point, he’d said something untrue at least once.
What’s more, he doesn’t correct the misinformation he presents. He regularly repeats untrue claims. The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale counts the number of times Trump repeats things that have already been publicly demonstrated as false. It’s impossible not to assume that the president simply doesn’t care that his preferred way of talking about something isn’t true.
Trump seizes on whatever makes his point, like a made-up assertion about the number of people killed by immigrants in the country illegally. His tweets have, at times, contradicted each other explicitly over the course of only a few days.
For example, compare June 27 to June 30.
In his comments before the veterans group this week, Trump was suggesting that we the media couldn’t be trusted. What you’re seeing and what you’re reading from the press is not what’s happening, he claimed. When it comes to Trump, the saying should be amended: What I’m saying now is the only thing worth paying attention to. What I said three days ago? Fake news.
Why does Trump behave this way? For the same reason that he (also falsely) repeatedly claims to have won the 2016 election easily. Trump likes to reinforce his own success and his own greatness, and information that conflicts with that gets discredited. CBS’s Lesley Stahl said earlier this year that Trump told her explicitly that this was his strategy.
“You know why I do it?” Stahl says Trump told her. “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”
To do so, he has help. The first time Sean Spicer addressed the media as Trump’s press secretary was to come to Trump’s defense after the president’s assertion that his was the biggest inaugural crowd in history. There’s no evidence that it was, even accommodating Spicer’s baseless assumption that Trump was looping in television and online viewers.
In a way, Trump’s comment to the veterans was just an overt articulation of what was already obvious. It was a direct request to his base to do what had previously been implicit: Set aside anything from anyone else as suspect.
Many already do. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found that most Americans believe the media over Trump. Three-quarters of Republicans believe the president.