Tag Archives: Donald Trump and lies

The Blurring of Fact and Opinion, 2016-Style (Part 1 of 5)

The expression “You are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts” came to us from the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who during his distinguished career was a scholar, an advisor to presidents, a diplomat, and a United States senator. For the most part, people generally seem to agree with this assertion, with the implicit understanding that good people may differ when it comes to matters of opinion.

Was it fact or fiction?  Last year, that seemed to matter less than ever.

Was it fact or fiction? Last year that seemed to matter less than ever.

A number of news organizations devote considerable resources to identifying facts and disproving erroneous assertions and opinions presented as facts in the public arena. The Washington Post, for example, has “Fact Checker,” the Annenberg Public Policy Center has Factcheck.org, and the Tampa Bay Times operates “Politifact.” In addition, many newspapers run some sort of fact-check features during political campaigns in which they attempt to identify for their readers the facts and the falsehoods they are hearing from candidates for public office.

In 2016 we learned that for a lot of people, the facts just don’t matter. They’re not interested in facts, not interested that the candidate who insisted that two plus three equals seven was incorrect, not interested in believing anything that differs from what they want to believe, as opposed to the truth.

Never did facts and the truth matter as little as they did during the presidential campaign of 2016.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory, a lot of people and pundits are saying this outcome represented a failure by the media. The Curmudgeon does not agree. If anything, the media stepped outside of its usual role of “just the facts” to make sure readers and viewers understood when the presidential candidates were bending the facts or outright lying. That’s why Donald Trump kept referring to the media as corrupt and as liars: because reporters were detailing his own exaggerations and lies and he considers such truth-telling to be a form of corruption.

And his supporters ate it up. They weren’t interested in learning that the things they were being told weren’t true; they wanted those things to be true, so they joined Trump in excoriating those who dared tell them otherwise. No, the media didn’t fail in this campaign because it failed to point out lies and other tall tales; to the contrary, it was the voters who failed because so many of them decided they were willing to be deceived, willing to be lied to – even happy to be deceived and happy to be lied to – by someone, by anyone, who was willing to tell them what they wanted to hear.

The Curmudgeon also doesn’t buy the argument that the media gave Trump too much free publicity. First of all, all credible candidates for president get a lot of free “publicity.” It’s called news coverage, and that’s what news organizations exist to provide. Second, and more important, the attention Trump received was based on his willingness – a craven willingness, at least in The Curmudgeon’s view, but a willingness nonetheless – to say whatever he needed to say to get that attention. He had a short-cut to that attention, and to credibility, because he’s so well-known and so many people have shown so much interest in what he has had to say over the years, regrettable though that may seem. He was not a Jill Stein or a Gary Johnson. When a candidate for president who has earned public attention says he wants to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the U.S., that’s news and the media needs to report it. When he says he wants to keep Muslims out of the U.S., that’s news and the media needs to report it. And when he says he wants to jail his opponent, repeal a law that enabled 30 million Americans to get health insurance, appoint certain kinds of people to the Supreme Court, bring manufacturing jobs to the U.S., rescind trade deals and peace treaties, or any of scores of other things, those statements are news and need to be reported. On the presidential campaign trail the press has only limited latitude to decide what news it reports; if a candidate for president says something it’s automatically news and needs to be reported.

How much more responsible was his campaign than Trump's?

How much more responsible was his campaign than Trump’s?

What would some people have the media do – ignore such statements? Ignore the candidate who makes such statements? Would opponents of Trump on the left have felt the same way if the media had decided to ignore things Bernie Sanders talked about on the campaign trail? (And, for that matter, was Sanders’ campaign any less sensationalistic than Trump’s?) No, the press needs to report the statements – and then point out any factual errors that underlie such statements. And that’s exactly what the media did – and did in a way, with an aggressiveness and comprehensiveness, that it never has in the past.

So who failed? Without question, the pollsters – failed to an enormous, stupendous, unprecedented degree. Any candidate, any news organization, that paid a polling company and was told that Clinton had this race in the bag ought to demand a refund. The pollsters proved completely, utterly, hopelessly incompetent in 2016. That, more than anywhere else, is where failure abounded.

In 2016, political pollsters showed about the same level of skill and accuracy as...weather forecasters.

In 2016, political pollsters showed about the same level of skill and accuracy as…weather forecasters.

And that, too, was a strange, inexplicable failure to distinguish fact from opinion. As The Curmudgeon understands it, more than a few pollsters gathered data that suggested that the presidential race was closer than anticipated and that Trump was doing very well, but they interpreted that data incorrectly. Why? Why ignore the facts and fall back on their own instincts or suspicions instead? Did they think they knew better than the numbers? Or did they, like the voters for whom they ultimately showed such disrespect, choose to rely on their opinions rather than the facts they gathered? The Curmudgeon suspects it will be a few more years before we learn the whole story behind the colossal failure of the polling industry – and even a longer time before we trust that industry again.

This week The Curmudgeon will offer a few more examples of how the facts no longer seem to matter in public discourse ­– and why that is so dangerous. He hopes you’ll stick around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Trump Watch: Mid-August (part 2 of 2)

(continued from yesterday)

The Donald draws large crowds wherever you go – proof, The Curmudgeon believes, that you really can fool at least some of the people some of the time. But his penchant for exaggeration is unquenchable, as the Roanoke Times reported earlier this month:

[Trump] boasted there were 1,000 people standing outside on the Wells Avenue side in 104-degree heat, listening to him on loudspeakers. (There weren’t; there were at most 50, according to a city firefighter who was outside, and the temperature never hit 100.)

*            *            *

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reported in early August on Trump’s arms’ length relationship with the truth:

The Republican presidential nominee tweeted over the weekend that rival Hillary Clinton and her fellow Democrats “are trying to rig the debates” by scheduling them during NFL games. (In fact, the bipartisan debate commission, independent of parties and candidates, announced the dates on Sept. 23, 2015.)

In sharp contrast to those tiny, tiny hands.

In sharp contrast to those tiny, tiny hands.

He further alleged that “I got a letter from the NFL saying, ‘This is ridiculous.’ ” (The National Football League says it sent no such letter.)

 In an epic interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump declared that Russia’s Vladimir Putin “is not going to go into Ukraine.” (Russia has been in Ukraine since 2014.)

 Trump further asserted that “I have no relationship with Putin,” “I never met him” and “I have never spoken to him on the phone.” (In 2013, he said that “I do have a relationship” with Putin, and in 2014 he said, “I spoke indirectly and directly with President Putin, who could not have been nicer.”)

 Trump announced that former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who criticized Trump during the Democratic National Convention, “doesn’t know me well.” (Trump, on CBS in January, said of Bloomberg: “I know him very well.”)

And this:

There isn’t space to mention most of Trump’s whoppers, so let’s take a simple category: those in which Trump debunks himself. He claimed that he never promised to raise $6 million for veterans, that he wanted to keep his fundraising for veterans quiet, that he never offered to pay legal fees for supporters who hit protesters, that he didn’t call Marco Rubio “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator,” that he doesn’t “know anything about David Duke,” that he “never mocked” a disabled reporter, that he opposed the Iraq invasion “loud and strong” from the start and that he didn’t support the attack on Libya.

In each case, video, audio and written evidence proves otherwise. So, too, do the facts refute his denials that he called Sen. John McCain a “loser,” objected to Fox News Channel host Megyn Kelly as a debate moderator and used a vulgar word to describe Sen. Ted Cruz at a campaign rally.

In each case, Trump surely could have known that a simple Internet search would prove him a liar. This suggests that he may not think he’s lying — and that he sees truth not as an absolute but as the last thing to come out of his mouth.

*            *            *

Of course, the really menschy thing to do would have been to say "No, that's extraordinarily kind of you, but the Purple Heart belongs to those who earned it the hard way."

Of course, the really menschy thing to do would have been to say “No, that’s extraordinarily kind of you, but the Purple Heart belongs to those of you who earned it the hard way.”

Congratulations to The Donald, by the way, for finally getting that Purple Heart he always wanted. The Curmudgeon is certain that all those soldiers who earned their Purple Hearts the old-fashioned way – by getting wounded in battle – are delighted that he’s joined their ranks.

*            *            *

When The Donald declared President Obama the founder of ISIS, The Curmudgeon – like many others – assumed he meant that Mr. Obama had contributed to an environment that fostered ISIS’s emergence. It may or may not be true but it’s a reasonable argument, even if the word “founder” is a bit much.

A day or two after Trump made this claim he went on a conservative radio talk show and the host offered him an opportunity to explain that he meant that Mr. Obama had not literally founded ISIS.

“I know what you meant – you meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace,” the host suggested.

Trump, though, was having none of it.

No, I meant that he’s the founder of ISIS, I do.

Of course in the following days he retreated from his hyperbole, but you have to wonder: since Trump is a guy who believes the U.S. should wield its nuclear arsenal more effectively, don’t you worry that he’s going to use one of those bombs and then, a few days later, realize that maybe he shouldn’t have?

*            *            *

As part of the fight against ISIS, Trump has “…called for parents, teachers and others to promote “American culture” and encouraged “assimilation.”

“Assimilation”? Didn’t we decide that it was okay to express pride in our origins? Also, how do you “assimilate” people who look different from the majority and how has that worked out so far for young black men whose backs seem to be magnets for police bullets?

*            *            *

Also in the fight against ISIS, Trump has, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer,

…vowed to partner with any country that shares his goal of defeating the extremist group, regardless of other strategic disagreements, and named Russia as a nation he would like to improve relations with.

Any country? Really? Has he lost his mind? This is pretty consistent with Trump’s approach to business: you can be a competitor or an enemy but if he has an opportunity to make money with you, you are suddenly his friend and all past disagreements and transgressions are forgotten. There are still a lot of totalitarian governments and dictatorships out there, but this “Trump Doctrine” would make them allies.

Not a good idea.

*            *            *

Trump recently tweeted

If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly and didn’t put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20%.

The only one putting meaning into Trump’s words is Trump. Every time he opens his mouth he puts his foot into it. If he wants the press to pay more attention to the substance of what he’s saying he has to do two things: first, say something of substance; and second, stop saying things that become major distractions. The only person he has to blame for that is himself. When he gets “credit” for stopping his assault on the father of a Muslim-American killed in battle, you know the campaign has come off the rails.

*            *            *

And it’s not just the press saying the campaign has come off the rails: professional Republicans are saying it, too. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that

As he skips from one gaffe to the next, GOP leaders in Washington and in the most competitive states have begun openly contemplating turning their backs on their party’s presidential nominee to prevent what they fear will be wide-scale Republican losses on Election Day.

Also,

Republicans who have devoted their professional lives to electing GOP candidates say they believe the White House already may be lost. They’re exasperated by Trump’s divisive politics and his insistence on running a general election campaign that mirrors his approach to the primaries.

 Based on his campaign record, there’s no chance he’s going to win,” said Sara Fagen, the political director for former President George W. Bush. “He’s losing groups of people he can’t get back.

And Trump’s not rising to the challenge.

… in the past seven days, Trump has questioned the advice of senior aides, threatened to stop raising money for the party, dismissed the usefulness of get-out-the-vote efforts and defended his decision not to run any television ads even as his opponents fill the airwaves with spots backing Clinton in several contested states.

And this brilliant observation from the candidate himself:

I’ll just keep doing the same thing I’m doing right now,” he told CNBC on Thursday. “And at the end it’s either going to work or I’m going to you know, I’m going to have a very, very nice, long vacation.”

The result?

More than 100 GOP officials, including at least six former members of Congress and more than 20 former staffers at the Republican National Committee, have signed a letter asking the party chairman, Reince Priebus, to stop helping Trump’s campaign.

*            *            *

And we’re still waiting for those income tax returns. As a reminder, Trump says he “can’t” release those returns while they’re being audited. That’s not true, on two counts: first, not all of his returns are being audited, so there are some that aren’t being contested and can be released; and second, there’s no rule or law that says he can’t release those being audited. It’s not that he can’t; it’s that he won’t.

Has he even filed?

Maybe they’re in a drawer with the Obama birth certificate.

Most likely because he’s in the real estate business, which may offer more opportunities for dodging taxes than any other field, and he desperately doesn’t want voters to see that he barely pays any taxes at all.

Unlike those of us whose votes he seeks and whose interests he says he’ll serve.

Do you find it even remotely possible to imagine Trump serving anyone’s interests but his own under any – any – circumstances?