The president keeps going long after the facts are clear, in what appears to be a deliberate effort to replace the truth with his own, far more favorable, version of it. He is not merely making gaffes or misstating things, he is purposely injecting false information into the national conversation.
That dubious distinction will be awarded to politicians who repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.The bar for the Bottomless Pinocchio is high: The claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from The Fact Checker, and they must have been repeated at least 20 times. Twenty is a sufficiently robust number that there can be no question the politician is aware that his or her facts are wrong. . . .The Fact Checker has not identified statements from any other current elected official who meets the standard other than Trump.
Trump isn’t trying to persuade anyone to believe his lies as much as he’s trying to render factual reality irrelevant — thus reducing the pursuit of agreement on it to just another part of the media circus in which he thrives. . . .There is a reason Trump regularly tells lies that are very easy to debunk: The whole point of them is to assert the power to say what the truth is, even when — or especially when — easily verifiable facts, ones that are right in front of our noses, dictate the contrary. The brazenness and shamelessness of his lying is not just a by-product of an effort to mislead voters that Trump is merely taking to new levels. Rather, the brazenness and shamelessness of the lying is central to his broader project of declaring for himself the power to say what reality is.
Some editors have offered the tortured argument that they should refrain from using the word lie because it suggests knowledge of Trump’s intent to mislead, which cannot be conclusively established. But this rigs the game in Trump’s favor: One cannot ever conclusively prove whether Trump is intentionally lying, as opposed to just delusional or hopelessly uninformed.Yet if Trump repeats a falsehood over and over after it has been debunked, it is obviously deliberate deception; if news organizations refrain from calling this out as such, they are failing to accurately describe what is right there in plain sight. This misleads readers and viewers not just in each particular case. Importantly, it also misleads them more broadly about the truly sinister and deliberate nature of Trump’s ongoing and concerted campaign to obliterate the possibility of shared agreement on facts and on the news media’s legitimate institutional role in keeping voters informed. The resulting standard for describing Trump does not reckon seriously with the scale of the challenge to the truth he poses, and, by portraying his ongoing campaign of flood-the-zone lying as conventional dishonesty or mere incompetence, paints a profoundly misleading picture of the realities of the current moment.
American journalism has confronted other such moments before. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the profession was tested in then-new ways by a confluence of cultural and political changes, including the growth of the federal government and mass media; the increasing transparency of Congress via innovations such as the Freedom of Information Act; and the massive official deception around the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War. As media scholar Michael Schudson recounts, journalists and the news media adapted by becoming more probing and analytical and by asserting themselves more aggressively toward powerful figures, changes that brought a “new skepticism and critical instinct to journalism,” which enabled the profession of journalism to evolve along with changes in American society and political culture. We may be in the midst of another such transition.