Former White House communications director-for-a-few-days Anthony Scaramucci is very upset that CNN ran a headline Wednesday quoting him calling President Trump a “liar.” So when he was on Bloomberg TV the next day, he decided to clarify.
“Yes, the president is speaking mistruths,” Scaramucci said Thursday after accusing the network of pursuing “clickbait.” “Yes, the president is lying. He’s doing it intentionally to incite certain people, which would include left-leaning journalists and most of the left-leaning politicians.”
Scaramucci added: “He’s an intentional liar; it’s very different from just being a liar liar.”
O . . . kay?
Points for honesty. This is a former White House communications director admitting that his ex-boss, the president of the United States, is in fact a prolific liar and someone who wields lies for political gain. That’s no small thing.
But Scaramucci is also drawing a weird distinction. A lie is, definitionally, an intentional act. Saying someone is an “intentional liar” is redundant. If you don’t know what you are saying is false, it’s not actually a lie.
This is why much of the media, including The Washington Post, continues to decline to label Trump’s false statements as “lies.” It’s generally impossible to prove Trump knew better when he said the many false things he’s said. Perhaps he is simply living in an elaborately constructed fantasy or doesn’t grasp basic facts (which I’ve argued might be worse than being a liar!) — and you don’t write what you can’t prove.
Scaramucci’s main point, then, seems to be that Trump’s lies are deliberate — as part of a strategy. He’s basically arguing that Trump lies for a purpose — to goad his opponents into overreacting — and that this is somehow better than other kinds of lying. It’s not like Trump has little or no control over his lying. It’s that he’s doing it proactively.
All of this seems quite likely. Trump, whatever you think of him, is a savvy media operator. He will often say controversial things in just such a way as to allow himself plausible deniability, inviting tough coverage while giving himself an out. He has built a hugely loyal base, and a big part of that has been stoking feuds with the already much-hated media, often by saying so many false things that reporters are forced to cover them endlessly. Trump has seized upon the media’s obsession with facts (which it is their job to pursue, first and foremost) to prop up an extremely convincing boogeyman.
But it’s also quite a commentary on our political day and age when one of the president’s former aides and biggest promoters feels the need to argue that the president’s lies are actually smart lies. Scaramucci says Trump’s base is in on the joke and views the media as an overzealous “hall monitor.”
That might well be the case, but I don’t think it’s nearly as much of a mystery to the press as Scaramucci suggests. And if the president truly views lying as such a weapon. and so much of the country views it simply as the price of “owning the libs,” that’s a pretty sad state of affairs.