Commentary
Published: May 23, 2016
Time To Call Trump What He Is... A Big Fat Liar
by Andrew Feinberg


There must be a better way. I am so tired--you don't know how tired--of watching Donald Trump go on TV and lie with impunity.

Our outmoded "journalism nice" rules, under which all stories have two sides and no one is branded a liar even for saying the unemployment rate is 42% or "I don't know anything about David Duke," may lead to a national catastrophe. We must change these standards.

The factphobic presumptive Republican nominee is, arguably, the biggest liar in American politics since Senator Joseph McCarthy. (Watergate gives Nixon an asterisk.) According to PolitiFact, Trump's Pants on Fire lies outnumber those of Hillary Clinton by nine to one.

Knowing that Trump draws ratings like a carcass attracts flies—and that the Deceitful One might deny access if they are not "fair" to him, to use his puerile word—TV reporters and talk-show hosts have refused to call him a liar no matter what. Sure, some guests and many columnists have used the L word—as have the editorial pages of The New York Times and Washington Post—but those with permanent jobs on TV seem to live in constant fear that offending Trump might cost them ratings or even employment.

Case in point: Trump recently told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Hillary Clinton was one of the first birthers. Blitzer said nothing and then, predictably, let Trump evade a follow-up birther question. After the interview, Blitzer, to give him some credit although he scarcely deserves any, said Trump was wrong about Clinton. Such after-the-fact—as it were—corrections have minimal impact. Confront the liar when he is lying. In this particularly surreal case, Trump was adding a new layer of falsehood to one of his greatest hits—his long-running, never-retracted refusal to acknowledge President Obama's legitimacy.

Others who have watched in horror as broadcast and print outlets enable Trump's ascendancy are also calling for new standards, among them Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept and Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC. In a remarkable piece last month, Robert Schlesinger, managing editor of U.S. News and World Report (hardly a firebreathing lefty rag), said that, based on the evidence, fact-checkers should assume every Trump statement is false until proven otherwise. He said an on-screen disclaimer should appear whenever Trump is talking.

To be fair to the TV talent, it's hard to keep up with Trump's mendacity blitzkrieg. During the March 2016 GOP debate, the Deceitful One uttered 1.16 falsehoods per minute, according to The Huffington Post. In many, if not most, cases, an interviewer won't know the facts well enough to use the L word. But often Trump is so shameless in repeating debunked claims that the truth is clear. Reasonable people can disagree, but not on birther allegations, thousands and thousands of New Jersey celebrants on 9/11 and Trump's mocking of a New York Times reporter's disability.

Sometimes the Deceitful One makes it ridiculously easy. Way back when, Trump acknowledged under oath he sometimes pretended to be his own publicist. Today, he denies such make-believe ever occurred. Either he was lying then—under oath—or he is lying now. Let's be kind and not accuse the guy of a felony. Conclusion: he's lying now.

So just say so. Don't let the facts speak for themselves because, for tens of millions of people, THEY DON'T. We are surrounded by people who do not connect the dots.

Labeling a lie a lie should be good journalism. The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed do it. (Heck, PolitiFact won a Pulitzer Prize for doing it. Or are you going to tell me "Pants on Fire" does not mean 'lie'?) PolitiFact does a great job (Trump, shockingly, calls it "dishonest"), but its reports are often too little, too late. We must confront a liar in real time.

But, to a great extent, the media are failing us in 2016 because they have been besieged by a candidate who doesn't even observe the political standards of truth and decency. Yes, almost all politicians lie—Lincoln did not—but they don't lie like this. Some writers have accused Trump of gaslighting America, which seems accurate. And through it all, the Deceitful One sells himself as a straight-shooter and scored points by branding his main primary opponent Lyin' Ted. (Although Senator Cruz was a gifted liar, he couldn't match Trump's Olympian dishonesty, according to PolitiFact. But he's young. He can learn.) 

How might this all play out? Well, if only one host calls Trump a liar, he or she will suffer and little good will come of this. (Maybe we should start a Pants on Fire fund to reward TV folk with the courage to use the L word.) If several hosts call the Deceitful One to account, he might initially boycott them—but this move could backfire. Trump needs access, too. (Look how he slithered back to Megyn Kelly.) Getting free media has made him the force he is.

The media needs to let Trump know that their free coverage now comes at a price. He has to lie less often and answer for whoppers he's already told. It might be very interesting. And, who knows, we might still have a country after the November elections.

Andrew Feinberg is the author of Four Score and Seven, a novel which imagines that Abe Lincoln has come back during the 2016 campaign to interact with a character who, some say, resembles the presumptive Republican nominee. Learn more about the book and author at MissingLincoln.com




© Copyright 2004-2012 by Post Chronicle Corp.
Top of Page

PostChronicle.com is best viewed with an 1024x768 screen resolution

tumblr stats




Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are that of the authors and not necessarily that of The Post Chronicle™. Since we offer our product free of charge, we run banner advertising in order to cover the operating costs of delivering the material. Read More Here  DMCA Policy Here  Privacy Policy Here