Jeffrey Lord loves Donald Trump. The former Ronald Reagan aide's job at CNN is to analyze the presidential race through a pro-Trump lens, and he does it with unparalleled dedication. While another of the cable channel's in-house Trump backers, Kayleigh McEnany, recently refused to defend the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's attack on a federal judge — condemned as racist by House Speaker Paul Ryan and others — Lord contended that his candidate was actually calling out racism.
Know what Lord doesn't love? Fact-checkers. And if you thought his argument in support of Trump's tirade against a "Mexican" judge (who is actually from Indiana) was convoluted, get ready for Lord's case against fact-checking. He presented it Sunday on CNN's "Reliable Sources."
I think the best fact-checkers in a presidential campaign are the opponents, in this case Hillary and Donald Trump. I think they do a better job of countering the assumptions of the other candidate than fact-checkers.
I mean, I hate to be the dissenter here, and I'm not saying this because of Donald Trump, but I honestly don't think this fact-checking business — as we're all into this — is anything more than, you know, one more sort of out-of-touch, elitist, media-type thing. I don't think people out here in America care. What they care about are what the candidates say.
Let's just note right off the bat that Merriam-Webster's definition of "journalism" reads, in part, "writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts." Reporting facts is literally the definition of journalism.
The first principle of the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics is "seek truth and report it." Again, seeking the truth — the facts — is Job No. 1 for journalists. Lord says doing this job is "elitist" and seems to suggest (or at least imply) that reporters ought to be nothing more than stenographers, relaying "what the candidates say," since that's what voters care about.
It's not that facts don't matter at all, according to Lord. It's just that "the best fact-checkers in a presidential campaign are the opponents." Apparently journalists ought to let Trump and Hillary Clinton police themselves and just chronicle the back and forth.
Lord is right about this much: Americans hold a pretty dim view of the press. Trust in the media is at a historic low — just 40 percent, according to Gallup. Based on that sorry statistic, we can conclude that many voters doubt whether fact checks really contain facts.
But we also know voters don't put much trust in Trump and Clinton, either. Fox News regularly polls voters on whether they trust both candidates. For Trump, the average trust level in the last three surveys was 38 percent; for Clinton, it was 34 percent.
These are the people who should be responsible for fact-checking each other?
We need not guess how Trump and Clinton would perform as fact-checkers; their campaigns are already in the fact-checking business, and the results aren't always great.
On Friday, Trump delivered a speech in which he ripped Clinton. His campaign followed up by distributing a 35-page document to reporters that contained the "top 50 facts about Hillary Clinton" from the address, including one he repeats often on the trail: "Fact 19: Clinton was at home sleeping while attacks in Benghazi continued."
The first supporting source on this "fact" was ... Donald Trump. Yes, Trump checks his facts with himself. The second source was a FactCheck.org piece which, it turns out, concluded there is "no evidence" for Trump's claim.
To review, Trump cited himself and a report that refuted his statement. He seems not to understand how this works.
Clinton's team fired back with its own fact check: "15 biggest lies in Trump's speech." The charge that Clinton slept through the Benghazi attacks made the list. But instead of denying Trump's claim directly, Clinton simply referred to the same FactCheck.org story.
Then there was this:
LIE: “Hillary’s Wall Street immigration agenda will keep immigrant communities poor, and unemployed Americans out of work.”
FACT CHECK: Comprehensive immigration reform would boost economic growth and increase the size of the labor force.
Well then, I guess that settles it. Or not. The Clinton campaign linked to a report prepared by advisers to President Obama — a useful reference but hardly the kind of independent research that would end a debate.
There is little doubt that journalistic fact-checking efforts are viewed skeptically by many voters. Referees in sports aren't very popular, either. But Trump and Clinton have clearly demonstrated that they could not be trusted to call their own fouls.
Even if you believe the media should cede its fact-checking duties to the campaigns — which, again, runs counter to what journalism is all about — what Lord proposed would do very little for the truth.