President Trump's controversial campaign against the threat he says Muslim extremists pose to the United States hit a new pitch Wednesday, when he retweeted a series of unverified videos of alleged Muslim violence from the account of a far-right anti-Muslim activist in Great Britain.
That was objectionable enough. But the White House's response carves an even deeper bunker.
In response to questions about the veracity of the videos Trump retweeted, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered this to CBS News's Major Garrett: “Whether it's a real video, the threat is real. His goal is to promote strong border security and strong national security.”
Yes, you read that right: The White House that complains almost daily about “fake news” doesn't care if these videos are fake news as long they serve real purposes. Sanders just tacitly endorsed the concept of propaganda, and she said it out loud.
This version of the ends justifying the means would make Machiavelli blush.
On some level, there is really nothing else Sanders could say. Trump's decision to retweet dodgy information from the accounts of dubious individuals like Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First, is a well-worn feature of his social media tendencies. It was really only a matter of time before he went this far. It's kind of surprising he hadn't tweeted videos like these before. He did, after all, once propose banning all Muslim immigrants to the United States.
But that doesn't change the fact that the White House just publicly sanctioned the use of false information to further its political goals. Sanders says clearly, “Whether it's a real video, the threat is real.” Translation: The first part doesn't really matter, as long as the second part is satisfied.
One major problem with this philosophy is that it's not difficult to see it being used to justify any number of Trump's behaviors and alleged misbehaviors. He lied when he made all those promises to voters? Well, he was just trying to get votes! He colluded with Russia? Well, he was just trying to Make America Great Again, but he had to become president first! He fired James Comey to obstruct the Russia investigation? There are Muslims trying to kill us, and Trump needs to stay in office to stop them!
The other problem with endorsing the use of propaganda is that it calls into question your underlying arguments. If you need fake information to argue for a real goal, it suggests the existing evidence isn't all that compelling. It makes it appear much more likely that your cause is unjust. And the justness of Trump's measures to combat Muslim extremists is already hugely disputed.
But mostly, it cuts to your credibility. In her comments on Wednesday, Sanders effectively tossed gasoline on the White House's credibility and dropped a lit match on it. Not that the White House's record for the facts is particularly strong, but how can we not assume that anything they say from now on isn't them spreading falsehoods in furtherance of some goal they have deemed to be just?
That's a hell of an standard operating procedure. It's even more remarkable that it was acknowledged publicly.