Such recitals, however, miss the most elemental plank of Trump’s years in power: lying. Falsehoods — usually intentional, occasionally accidental — undergird the formulation, promotion and defense of all presidential policy positions. They are essential to any discussion about this White House, though they’re so frequent, so relentless, that they threaten to inure the public to their ills.
“All the President’s Lies,” a one-hour special report from CNN’s Jake Tapper, seeks to refocus attention on the mendacious foundation of Trumpism. “We all know he does it,” says Tapper in the show’s introduction. “This isn’t a partisan thing. He just empirically says a tremendous number of things that are just completely wrong.” The special — which premiered on Sunday night and is scheduled to re-air on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights — examines the impact of the lies, as viewed through a number of issues: climate change, impeachment, health care, immigration, gun control and more.
Lies don’t make for visual excitement. The special, accordingly, has the feel of a long CNN panel discussion ladled out in smaller portions. It relies on input from Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio, CNN reporter Abby Phillip, former U.S. representative Charlie Dent, Yale economics professor Robert Shiller, Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler, former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman and others. And it showcases the work of Daniel Dale, the former Toronto Star journalist who has gained fame for his quick-response fact-checks on Twitter. CNN announced its hiring of Dale in June, and the president has kept him busy ever since. We even get a peek at one of Dale’s fact-checking spreadsheets.
The program sets out to explore the impact of Trump’s lies, and there’s plenty in that particular box. His manipulation of science and weather threatens to endanger lives as folks lose confidence in science-based weather forecasts. “What this president has been doing is, unfortunately, numbing us to lies,” says Whitman, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. “They have been putting a gag on scientists, for instance. Scientists know that if they find something, as they do their basic science research — if it’s contrary to what the administration wants, you don’t bring it up.”
His lies about the economy have a similar effect. “In the long run, I think it’s not good to set up an atmosphere of lies and counter-lies because I think it’s hard to do business in that environment,” says Shiller. “But in the short run, it can boost business by creating some kind of confidence, some sort of false beliefs.” In late August, CNN reported, Trump “conflated” messages from Chinese leaders as a way of crafting a market-boosting news cycle after some bad economic news had stacked up at the White House door. “Though Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted there had been ‘communication’ [from the Chinese], aides privately conceded the phone calls Trump described didn’t happen they way he said they did,” noted a CNN story.
And as Tapper notes, Trump’s central character trait has a way of shortening his list of accomplishments. “The president casts himself as a dealmaker, yet very few deals have actually been struck, partly because he consistently makes false promises,” says Tapper, highlighting the bogus, moderate happy talk on immigration that the president unfurled in January 2018 at a memorable meeting in the Cabinet Room.
There was a time when CNN might have been leery of pushing a documentary title such as “All the President’s Lies” into the public marketplace. Media types for years debated among themselves whether to label Trump’s lies as lies. Smart and cautious editors noted that “lie” requires familiarity with the utterer’s state of mind, since the word applies to the commission of a knowing falsehood. While journalists stroked their chins, however, Trump continued doing what he’s been doing all his life: purposely saying false things. Kessler’s squad at The Post has counted more than 13,000 false and misleading claims by President Trump since the beginning of his term.
“Look, every politician sometimes lies, at least gets things wrong,” says Dale in the CNN special report. “Trump isn’t always intentional when he’s getting things wrong. But after literally thousands of these, at some point I think those defenses just start to sound silly.”
Though CNN, The Post and others seek to document and rebut Trump’s lies, the president manages to push plenty of misinformation directly and unfiltered to the American public. His favorite cable news channel, Fox News, continues treating his public utterances with a presumption of integrity. And even diligent outlets can’t possibly undo all the false impressions that Trump casts in his frequent, televised question-and-answer sessions. A motivated liar with a Twitter account vs. resource-limited fact-checkers — it’s a tilted rink.
The task of documenting the damage from all these lies is likewise bottomless. Whenever policymakers need the public to rely on their work, Trump will be implicated. Whenever warnings about upcoming events need to be heeded, Trump will be implicated. And whenever credibility needs to be associated with elections and other civic processes, Trump will be implicated. So gauging this fallout shouldn’t be a special report; it should be a series.
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