In case you haven't noticed, the media's “we can't know” theory was tossed out the window over the past 12 months. The word “lie” — traditionally avoided, in favor of less-loaded terms like “false statement” or “factual inaccuracy” — is now applied with some regularity to claims made by the Republican presidential nominee and his campaign.
On Monday, for example, The Washington Post's Ben Terris dropped the “L” word on Team Trump nine times in a single, first-person article in which he recalled how the campaign tried to “gaslight” him after he watched then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski yank journalist Michelle Fields by the arm in March.
The Trump campaign has told many lies since Lewandowski lied about grabbing Fields in that Florida ballroom. Trump lied in front of millions by claiming that Hillary Clinton’s campaign started rumors that President Obama was foreign-born (it didn’t). He lied when he said he started his business with a “very small loan” from his father (which is only true if you consider $14 million a small loan).
the New York Times decided in September that “lie” is the only accurate way to describe some of Trump's untrue statements, most notably his repeated (and only recently relinquished) claim that President Obama was born outside the United States. Executive editor Dean Baquet explained the Times' move in an interview on NPR that month.
“I think to say that that was a 'falsehood' wouldn't have captured the duration of his claim and, to be frank, the outrageousness of his claim,” Baquet said. “I think to have called it just a falsehood would have put it in the category of the usual political fare, where politicians say, 'My tax plan will save a billion dollars,' but it's actually a half a billion, and they're using the wrong analysis. This was something else. And I think we owed it to our readers to just call it out for what it was.”
Since January, the Huffington Post has attached an editor's note to most Trump-related news stories that describes the real estate magnate as a “serial liar.” Other news outlets that have used the word “lie” in Trump coverage include the Guardian, Politico, NBC, Vox, Vanity Fair, Forbes, the Los Angeles Times, Red State, Slate and Salon.
It is now standard practice in many newsrooms for journalists to identify a false statement, conclude that Trump knew it was false when he said it, then describe it to readers, viewers or listeners as a flat-out lie.
Just one more political norm shattered in 2016.
The question is whether Trump coverage is an exception to a rule that remains in place, or whether the rule has changed forever.