QUESTION: If it didn’t come from there, did it come from Iran, or did it come from southern Iraq? Where is the view that it would come from there?SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve seen no evidence that it – by the way, that makes the Houthis’ claims false, right. Just so we’re tracking back to your original question, that means these people lie. And so whatever you report about them, you say, “the Houthis said,” you should say, “the well-known, frequently lying Houthis have said the following.” This is important, because you ought not report them as if these are truth-tellers, as if these are people who aren’t completely under the boot of the Iranians, and who would not at the direction of the Iranians lay claim to attacks which they did not engage in, which clearly was the case here. So there you go. Whenever you say “Houthis,” you should begin with “the well-known, frequently-known-to-lie Houthis.” And then you can write whatever it is they say. And you would have — that would be good reporting. (Laughter.)
It’s not clear whether that laughter had anything to do with the fact that the standard Pompeo set forth would be a very bad one for his boss, President Trump.
Let’s follow Pompeo’s logic. He says the Houthis make lots of false claims, and thus they are liars. That’s a valid sentiment in the case of the Houthis, whose fight for relevance often involves making false claims. And there’s mounting evidence that this is one of those times.
According to Pompeo, when someone says lots of false things, you should refer to them using the adjectives “well-known, frequently lying.” Failing to note this constantly, in Pompeo’s estimation, would allow people to mistakenly take their claim at face value.
Trump has uttered more than 12,000 false or misleading things as president. He is not the Houthis, nor are his falsehoods the same as theirs. But there are lots of falsehoods. Whether any individual false claim was made knowingly and with intent to deceive is often difficult to ascertain, which is why much of the media continues to resist the L-word. There have been instances in which The Washington Post and the New York Times, though, have applied that label to something Trump clearly knew better about at the time. That includes when Trump denied knowledge of a hush-money payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels that he we later found out he was involved in.
Pompeo would apparently like us to do this more, judging by his comments Wednesday. By his logic, Trump has simply said too many false things for us to treat him like any other source in a story. So when Trump says it’s “fake news” that he has said he would meet with Iran without preconditions — despite both Trump and Pompeo having said he would do just that on multiple occasions — we should all adjust accordingly.
Taking Pompeo’s advice and broadly applying that “good reporting” standard would inevitably redound on his boss. Even if media resisted using the L-word, perhaps every reference to claims the president makes could include a note that Trump “has said more than 12,000 false or misleading things as president” — just so people can apply the kind of healthy skepticism Pompeo believes is so important in the case of the Houthis.
As I’ve often said, people are welcome to decide what’s important to them in a president, and that may not be accuracy. But it’s objectively the case that Trump has waged war on the truth in a way we simply haven’t seen in a U.S. president or really any modern politician. And if it’s good for the geese in Yemen, it should be good for the gander in the Oval Office.